Branden Robinson's 2005 DPL Candidate Platform


I have been a Debian Developer since early 1998. My most prominent work in Debian has been as a maintainer of the XFree86 packages, which I have done for seven years as of March 2005. Since 2001, I have also served on the Board of Directors of Software in the Public Interest, Inc., the not-for-profit corporation responsible for holding the Debian Project's assets in the United States. I am in my fifth year of employment at Progeny, the Linux company co-founded by Debian founder Ian Murdock, where I have both engineering and management responsibilities. I am married with no children. To my chagrin, I recently turned thirty.

I have also run for Debian Project Leader every year since 2001, never yet successfully. I continue to run because I continue to perceive problems and opportunities within the Debian Project that I would like to tackle from Debian's only elected position of leadership. I was disinclined to run this year, and posted a statement to this effect, but thanks to the encouragement of one hundred Debian Developers (including five applicants who will be joining our ranks soon), I was persuaded to nominate myself. The message I received from these supporters is that my goals are still relevant, and that I continue to be a convincing exponent for those goals. I warmly thank everyone who asked me, publicly or privately, to add myself to the slate of candidates this year.

My Goals

I have written extensively about my goals in my previous platforms for Project Leader. Because my diagnosis of Debian's challenges has not significantly changed in the past year, and because it would be nice to spare Debian's volunteers the labor of translating more text, I refer you to my 2004 platform for further details.

What's Different This Year

I'm pleased to report that, a little over a month ago, I was approached to become part of a new approach to Debian Project leadership. Jeroen van Wolffelaar, Andreas Schuldei, Enrico Zini, Steve Langasek, and Bdale Garbee, and I have formed "Project Scud", a team of concerned Debian Developers who have resolved to take some new approaches to resolve long-standing problems within the project.

The strengths of a team-based approach should be obvious: there are more shoulders for the work to fall upon, more person-hours of time that can be devoted to leadership tasks, and — most importantly — responsibilities can be shifted to better match individual strengths. While there may be no DPL candidate who reflects a voter's ideal vision of a project leader, we have seen time and again in the Debian Project how a motivated and harmonious team can get things moving and keep them running smoothly.

Equally, with a single elected DPL, there is still someplace for "the buck to stop", as a U.S. idiom puts it. Ultimate responsibility for leadership decisions will still fall upon the elected DPL. One person will and must remain finally accountable for leadership decisions, and that person is the Debian Project Leader.

(If you are not familiar with the intimate details of our election method, Condorcet with Cloneproof/Schwarz Sequential Dropping, you may wonder why Project Scud is running two candidates. Our view is consistent with analysis by Anthony Towns and other mathematicians, and Debian's election method will not result in our candidacies "splitting" any aggregate "Project Scud" vote.)

One thing that losing elections can teach a person is how to analyze one's own flaws. I harbor no illusions that I am a perfect DPL candidate, and am uncomfortable with the sort of flashy self-promotion that competitive elections seem to create. The Project Scud initiative removes even the temptation to do this. Six people can often achieve what one cannot.

What I Have to Offer

Here is what I have to offer as your project leader:

  1. An uninterrupted seven years of service to the Debian Project. In seven years, I've never gone on an extended hiatus. Even when on "vacation" for a few days, I tend to drop in, catch up on mail, say hello to my peers on an IRC channel, and triage the occasional severity-inflated bug against one of my packages. I've been around for a long time and don't plan on leaving.
  2. A solid grounding in technical, legal, and social issues. XFree86 is a notoriously difficult package to cope with from a technical perspective — or so I'm told by people who had sense enough not to adopt it seven years ago. I have been a fixture on the debian-legal mailing list for years, and have often been called upon by my fellow developers, to scrutinize license terms in detail and share my assessment on their DFSG-freeness as well as basic distributability and liability issues (that said, I myself prefer to turn to professional attorneys for actual legal advice). I have also served as leader of the Debian X Strike Force, the package maintenance team responsible for XFree86 and related packages for over a year, and as noted before I have served on the SPI Board of Directors for over three years. I've met and conversed with dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of my peers in the project and have been to many conferences at which Debian has had a presence, including LinuxWorld New York, LinuxWorld San Francisco, the Atlanta Linux Showcase, and DebConf (at which I made a presentation). I will take full advantage of this knowledge and experience as DPL.
  3. Courage. I've weathered my share of storms and criticism over the years. I have not shrunk from these critiques — I've done my best to learn from them, and, when persuaded I've been in the wrong, have swallowed my pride and admitted error. (I also have extensive archives of my outgoing email messages to back this up for the skeptical. :) ) I believe the position of leadership demands a balance of confidence and humility, and both these traits demand courage. Arrogance is for the insecure. As DPL, I pledge to represent our Project with integrity, and that includes knowing when and where others can best represent us.
  4. Tenacity. I'm not a person who gives up easily. The Debian Project's problems sometimes have deep roots, but the rewards to all of us for solving them will be great. I believe I have shown over the years that I do not easily abandon tasks I consider important. As DPL, I am willing to vary my approach or delegate responsibility, but I will not let go of a problem unless there is a consensus within the project that it need not be dealt with. I am committed to creating a legacy that we can be proud of.
  5. A commitment to openness and visibility. An important counterweight to tenacity is exposure — getting one's teeth into an issue can be harmful without the occasional sanity check from one's peers. For nearly two years, the nature of my changes (and others') to the packages maintained by the X Strike Force have been publicly logged in detail to the debian-x mailing list. On several occasions, mistakes or oversights have been noticed by others and corrected before they could make it even into Debian unstable. As a Board member of SPI, I've learned from hard experience that visibility is not just desirable, but critical — particularly in problem areas. I post regular reports to the spi-private mailing list, which all SPI contributing members (and therefore all Debian Developers) can read and comment on. The position of Project Leader is not a black hole into which the tough issues can be discarded, not to be heard from again. As DPL, I promise to produce at least one status report to the debian-devel-announce mailing list every month, wherein I will detail not just my successes, but areas where I have been unable to achieve progress. Armed with this information, I expect the entire body of Debian Developers to offer insights and share in the resolution of the challenges that face us all.
  6. A vision. Despite the challenges I focus on, Debian continues to be an exciting place to spend the majority of my free time (and even my career). Our commitment to empowering people through software freedom, real choices, and mastery over rather than servitude to the computing experience continues to inspire me, and is why I have remained a developer. Organizationally, we are strongly egalitarian, and have about as little hierarchy as we can get away with. Admission to our ranks can be challenging (and sometimes is not swift), but once within the project there are few barriers for talented individuals. The series of DebConf gatherings (for which one of my fellow candidates and Project Scud members, Andreas Schuldei, deserves no small amount of credit) reinforce our sense of comradeship, which ultimately makes us more productive and resistant to disruptive influences from outside. As DPL, I will keep these values, essential to our identity, central to my labors to resolve our most pressing problems. In many cases, I think those values can help point the way to solutions. An essential axiom of any role of stewardship is "leave it better than you found it". As a leader, I'm determined to maintain that vital essence of our project which has kept me engaged for all these years.

Thank you for your participation in this year's election. It is an honor to serve the Debian Project and its ideals.


I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the "rebuttal" part of the Debian Project Leader campaign process requested by the Project Secretary. I don't seek to challenge the credentials or the sincerity of any of my fellow candidates. It takes a fair of amount of boldness just to run for DPL, and subject oneself to the high level of scrutiny the process entails. Consequently, I'd like to offer my reflections on the other candidates' strengths, rather than attempting to pick apart their weaknesses.

I feel I have much in common with Matthew Garrett, in that we both have vigorous personalities. Neither of us shy away from challenging a status quo. I admire the exuberance that Matthew brings to his work in the Debian Project.

Anthony Towns has a long history with the project and has been intimately involved with some of its most important infrastructure. I think he brings a much-needed "insider's view" to this year's deliberations. Anthony and I are also similar in that we both appreciate the sort of engagement that a good roaring debate offers.

I have a lot of respect for Andreas Schuldei, who is my teammate on the aspiring project leadership group. I greatly appreciate his investment in ensuring that the social aspect of the Debian Project stays as healthy as the technical aspect.

Angus Lees is not well known to me, but anyone who has the patience to maintain Perl modules has a virtue I don't possess. :)

Jonathan Walther has, I believe, been very important in helping us to better understand who we are and who we're not. I must also confess that Given what I maintain, I'm envious of a fellow developer who has zero outstanding bugs against his packages. I cannot even dream of being in such a state.

All of these candidates have something to offer us, but I believe I am the most suited to the challenges that will face the next Debian Project Leader. I have been in preparation for this role for longer than my competition. We've seen other approaches taken, but the work ahead requires the combination of assertiveness, openness, and accountability that I will bring. With the backing of my teammates and the developers as a whole, I'm convinced I can steer us out of the worst of the difficulties that face us. With your support, I think we'll all be able to take a look back in March of 2006 and feel a well-justified sense of pride in ourselves. I humbly ask for your vote.