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01 April 2011 @ 11:34 pm
GNOME.Asia distribution collaboration session  

Today we gathered the representatives of different distributions that are present at GNOME.Asia to discuss what GNOME could do to improve its support for distributions that distribute it, especially in matters of long-term support.

It is kind of sad that there weren’t any representatives from Canonical nor Red Hat, but the discussion turned out really interesting and we learned a lot about the packaging habits of each other. Furthermore, there were several concrete leads that were explored, which will lead to proposals from the GNOME foundation to all distributions.

Helping with long-term support

The most widespread GNOME version in the LTS releases that happened recently is 2.30, which is used by Debian squeeze, Ubuntu LTS 10.04, RHEL 6, and Solaris 11. It looks like an accident, but on the other hand:

  • GNOME 2.32 isn’t really suitable as is for an entreprise distribution;
  • Linux distributions agreed on a kernel version to support long-term, so this had an impact on their release schedules, and this might well happen again for the next release.
In the future, a decision to use a common GNOME release could, anyway, only come from the distributions themselves, not from GNOME.

A proposal that many people agreed upon was to give distribution maintainers commit access to old branches that GNOME module maintainers don’t touch anymore. This way they could share their patches more easily and make new releases of these old branches. This would imply, of course, setting up rules about what changes are allowed, that distributions would have to agree upon (how to treat feature additions for example).

Managing bugs

Currently it is hard to tell, for a distributor, whether other distributions are affected too and whether they have released a fix for that. It was agreed upon that Launchpad’s feature of linking bugs between distributions, including version tracking, would exactly fill that need.

One of the solutions would then be to add such a feature to Bugzilla, but it is a lot of work since currently it doesn’t have any kind of version tracking. Another proposal was to deploy a new Launchpad instance to do serve as a hub between downstream bug systems and the GNOME Bugzilla. The condition for this to work would be to make it extremely easy to clone bugs between it and Bugzilla, and also if possible from the downstream bug systems.

On the side-related topic of how not to crawl under bugs, it might be possible to get bugs forwarded with a single command from the Debian BTS to Bugzilla, using the XML-RPC interface. Upstream also considers that bugs sent to Debian are generally of higher quality than those from e.g. Ubuntu, and would be OK with us routing some of them directly to upstream (like we already do for Evolution).

Communicating about the availability of patches

Currently distributors are hardly ever informed that patches relevant for their distribution have been committed. They often learn of them by sheer luck while lurking on Bugzilla.

The distributors-list ML is clearly the relevant media for that purpose, but it is clearly not used enough. It would need to be advertised more among both GNOME module maintainers, and among downstream maintainers as well.

On this matter, the disappearance of the x.y.3 GNOME releases (starting with 2.28) was evoked. The problem was that most of those releases were about insufficient changes to justify e.g. stable updates in distributions. The proposed solution is to encourage maintainers of modules with bugs to fix to release new versions (through an annoucement on desktop-devel-announce), and to send a list of modules with new versions to downstream distributors so that they can integrate them. This avoids the GNOME release team the hassle of making a new release, while still giving distributions that use them some bugfixes.

Providing a new service to LTS distributions

The idea of having the GNOME foundation employ a person to gather, on the GNOME side, all changes that are relevant to older GNOME versions, and prepare new stable versions, was discussed. This would be a new service for which commercial distributions would need to pay a fee.

It’s not clear how this information would be privately disclosed and the impact on non-commercial distributions. But it doesn’t seem likely that e.g. Red Hat would be interested since they employ a lot of core GNOME hackers who are already doing this job.

I don’t know what impact these proposals can have on GNOME packaging in Debian, but apart from the last one that I find dubious, it seems that they could greatly improve our support of GNOME in stable Debian releases, be it by having more versions to upload during the freeze, or by having more stuff in point releases. Frédéric Muller promised to come back to us with more concrete stuff.