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Sun 27 Jan 2013

The failures of Debian (and its derivatives)

I am a long term Debian user. I have used Debian since probably the mid 90' up to now. I use latest Debian stable on my personal server or at work, and Ubuntu on my desktop and laptop machines at home. Using it does not mean I am entirely satisfied with it to say the least. I think the distribution is not making enough efforts for its users and I'll try to explain why. Of course, YYMV. ;-)

  • Debian packaging is made for developers, not users. Debian has too many packages. To take just one example, the OCaml compiler is packaged into the main compiler, its libraries, the native compiler and the byte code one, etc. Why so many packages? If I am an OCaml developer, I want all of them so why do I need to manually find (the naming is far from being obvious, at least for beginners) and install so many packages? I have heard of several reasons: it allows to factorise common parts between the different binary architectures, it allows to install the command line only parts without the graphics parts, it allows to install only what the user wants, etc. For me, those reasons are just plain wrong. We have more and more disk capacity on our machines so disk usage is no longer a limitation. The package should be able to dynamically activate the graphic parts automatically if the X server is available. And the factorisation of shared parts between Debian architectures should be done on the servers storing the packages, not trough the packaging system.
  • Debian has out-dated software. Debian Wheezy is about to be released and it will have GNOME 3.4. But GNOME 3.6 is already out and GNOME 3.8 is on its way. And I am taking GNOME as an example, it is the same issue for lot of software within Debian. I have heard this is for stability issues. But software packaged in Debian is already stable! It should take 10 or 15 days to integrate a new software into Debian stable, not months or even years (the time between successive stable releases). I acknowledge that some packages have complex interdependencies between each others. For example, when a new release of the OCaml compiler is out, one needs to recompile all OCaml packages. But this constraint is only for OCaml packages. Why should I wait for a new stable version of Debian to get the newly released OCaml compiler? For me this sounds just plain wrong.
  • Nobody uses plain Debian stable. Debian developers are using unstable. Debian users are using Debian stable, but enriched with backports because of out-dated software. Or derivatives like Ubuntu. The fact the Debian developers are not using what they recommend to users is bogus. I know they do that for technical reasons, but that should not be a good reason. Debian developers should use what they are providing to their users, except maybe for a few packages they are working on.
  • There are too many dependencies between packages. The dependency system of Debian is a nice piece of work, it was ahead of its time when it was created. But the use of dependencies has been perverted. The dependencies are manually computed (thus source of errors and bugs) and at the same time any software can write to about any part of the file system. Due to too many dependencies and lack of clean interfaces between sub-systems, the installation of a recent user software can trigger a ton of packages down to a new kernel or libc. Why is it so? I think the sub-systems of Debian (e.g. the X graphical infrastructure, the kernel and base C libraries, the OCaml system, ...) should be isolated the one from the others. It would allow them to be updated without waiting for the others. Having dependencies between 29,000 packages is just not scalable. It is even more true if those dependencies are manually computed.
  • Debian packaging is lacking automation. I am a developer. Debian packagers are developers. It always astonished me how much manual work should be done to make and maintain a Debian package. All developers know that if they want to be efficient, they need to automate their work as much as possible, so as to be able to focus their manpower on the complex parts. Everything should be automated in Debian packages, starting from a minimal description file. Automation should be the default (package creation, test, static analysis, ...), not the exception.
  • One cannot install simultaneously several versions of the same software. As a user or developer, I want to use the stable version of a piece of software and maybe the latest stable version that just have been released in order to do a few tests or check that my software still compiles with the new shiny compiler. Debian does not allow me to do that. And if I install a newer package, downgrading to the previous version is complex and error prone.
  • Debian is undocumented. I am not talking about the installation guide which is nice, I am talking about the modifications made to software by Debian developers. Doing modification on the "standard" (for the software) way of configuring or using it has always seemed suspect to me, even if I agree that having harmonized configuration is a real advantage (all configuration files in /etc for example). But all of those modifications should be documented in README.Debian file. To take an example, the last time I tried to install the dokuwiki Debian package, I was unable to configure it! The way to add new users had been changed compared to a regular dokuwiki (the web interface was disabled), and those changes were undocumented. It should be a release critical bug! Without proper documentation, the user cannot use the software. And, of course, the reason behind those changes should be questioned, even for security reasons (a very secure but unusable software is superfluous. Security is a trade-off).

So, why I am complaining? Why I do not become a Debian Developer, so I can fix it? Because a single developer is not going to change the root causes of those issues. They need a massive development effort, or at least a massive acknowledgement by the Debian Developers. And I don't have ready-made answers to those issues (even if I have some ideas to solve them).

Is the grass greener in the other fields? I don't think so, or at least I am not aware of it. I like Debian for is community approach, its focus on Free Software (even if it is sometimes imperfect) and the wide range of software packaged in it (the OCaml packages are numerous for example). I just hope that the whole Debian community will focus on more user related issues in the future.

How to install Atelier B 4.1 on a Debian-like 64 bits machine

Atelier B 4.1 has just been released. For Linux machines, it is available as a binary packages for 32 bits x86 machines in RPM and DEB format. Unfortunately the DEB package won't work on a Debian-like 64 bits machine, for example an Ubuntu. Here the approach have I used to install the package:

Install Atelier B 4.1 in /opt/atelierb-4.1

  • mkdir /tmp/ab
  • cd /tmp/ab
  • wget http://www.atelierb.eu/atelier-b/4.1/free/AtelierB-4.1.0-free-linux.deb
  • ar xv AtelierB-4.1.0-free-linux.deb
  • cd /
  • sudo tar zxf /tmp/ab/data.tar.gz
  • sudo chown -R YourUserID:YourGroup /opt/atelierb-4.1/ # substitute YourUserID and YourGroup with adequate values

Configure the execution environment on an Ubuntu 12.04

  • sudo apt-get install ia32-libs-multiarch

You can now start Atelier B with:

 /opt/atelierb-4.1/startAB &

The procedure might be different for another Debian-like distribution, including Debian itself. You can add specific procedures for a given distribution in the comments.

Présentation de l'analyse de valeur avec Frama-C

Lundi 18 au matin, je suis intervenu dans un cours de compilation de l'ESIR (anciennement DIIC) pour présenter le framework d'analyse statique Libre Frama-C et en particulier l'analyse de valeur. Les transparents en PDF, les sources au format propriétaire et les exemples sont disponibles dans ce répertoire.

Vous pouvez facilement tester les exemples, il n'y a qu'à installer le paquet frama-c dans une Debian ou une Ubuntu. Si vous comptez venir à ma présentation de lundi 31, ne regardez pas trop en détail, sinon ça manquera de surprises. ;-)

N'hésitez pas à me poser des questions si besoin.

Mon 29 Mar 2010

Status of OCaml packages on Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.04 LTS): transition to OCaml 3.11.2 finished

I don't know who are responsible for this but the OCaml packages of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx 10.04 LTS have all transitioned to OCaml 3.11.2 on main architectures (amd64 and i386). A big thank to the mysterious developer(s)! Even for secondary architectures, all packages have transitioned to 3.11.2 except 3 packages on armel: coq, ssreflect and why.

Of course, having a source OCaml package compiled with the correct version of the OCaml compiler does not make it automatically working so I encourage you to test your preferred Ubuntu OCaml packages in Lucid.

If we now compare the set of source packages available respectively on Debian Unstable and Ubuntu Lucid, the situation is not so perfect. On the 145 OCaml packages available in Unstable, 21 are not at the same stage in Lucid.

There are 5 packages simply not available in Ubuntu:

  • clang 2.6-3
  • llvm 2.6-8
  • llvm-snapshot 20100312-1
  • obrowser 1.1+dfsg-4
  • unison2.27.57 2.27.57-2

There are 11 packages that have been updated in Unstable but not upgraded in Lucid:

  • Package Unstable-version Lucid-Version
  • approx 4.2-1 4.1-1
  • camlpdf 0.5-1 0.4-4
  • coccinelle 0.2.2.deb-1 0.2.0.deb-1ubuntu2
  • graphviz 2.26.3-3 2.20.2-8ubuntu3
  • ocaml-csv 1.2.0-1 1.1.7-2
  • ocaml-ssl 0.4.4-1 0.4.3-3
  • ocaml-text 0.3-1 0.2-3
  • ocsigen 1.3.0-4 1.2.2-1
  • pgocaml 1.4-1 1.3-3
  • postgresql-ocaml 1.12.4-1 1.12.1-2
  • unison 2.32.52-1 2.27.57-2ubuntu2

And lastly there are 5 packages that had minor updates or packaging bug fix in Unstable but not in Lucid:

  • Package Unstable-version Lucid-Version
  • nurpawiki 1.2.3-4 1.2.3-3
  • frama-c 20090902+beryllium+dfsg-5 20090902+beryllium+dfsg-4
  • ocamlgraph 1.3+debian-2 1.3+debian-1
  • sks 1.1.1-2 1.1.1-1ubuntu2
  • ssreflect 1.2+dfsg-4 1.2+dfsg-3

I don't know what to do about those packages or if I can even do anything. According to Ubuntu Lucid release schedule, we are reaching Beta 2 Freeze (on April the 1st) where uploads for packages in main and restricted are held in the queue and are subject to manual approval of the release team.

Do you have any advice?

Beside that, we still have 124 OCaml source packages in good shape in Lucid!

Looking for a C software for Formal Verification

As you probably know, I'm a huge fan of Formal Methods: use appropriate Mathematics and tools to ensure a program is correct in all possible situations. In other words, bug free software... well, sort of. :-)

The interesting side of this is that tools to apply Formal Methods have improved a lot and most of them are now Free Software. I'm maintaining a list of Free Software tools for Formal Methods (it is a wiki, you can update it!).

I would like to make an experiment with Frama-C and its plugins, especially Jessie. Frama-C is a framework for static analysis of C programs developed at CEA. Combined with the Why and Alt-Ergo tools, you can prove some properties on real C code (absence of integer underflow or overflow, absence of out-of-bound accesses, absence of NULL pointer de-referencing, program's specific properties, etc.). All those tools are Free Software and are developed in OCaml. And they now are available in Debian and Ubuntu!

I made a simple experiment last year but I would like to make a more elaborated one.

Therefore, I'm looking for a piece of C code with following criteria:

  • Free Software: I'm interested in improving software for the whole humankind; ;-)
  • Pure C code, no C++. If there is some assembly, I could work around for example by re-writting corresponding C function;
  • Code of moderate size, a few thousands line at most. It could be a sub-module or subset of a bigger code;
  • Code using mostly integers and pointers, few strings (aka char *)[1];
  • Verifying some properties on this code would be "interesting". Several possible reasons: for security or safety reasons, because the code is used in an embedded platform on which modifications are difficult once in production or simply because this code is used a lot.

If you know some software that fills those criteria, let me know through a comment or at dmentre@linux-france.org!


[1] Frama-C is a bit slow to handle strings and it can become cumbersome.

Thu 14 Jan 2010

Quick news: OCaml on Ubuntu Lucid and MapOSMatic

OCaml on Ubuntu Lucid

I have updated my scripts to compare Ubuntu OCaml packages to Debian ones. This time, I'm comparing Ubuntu Lucid against Debian testing, as for Lucid packages are imported from Debian testing (because Lucid is a Long Term Support release).

You'll find all the generated files here: http://bentobako.org/ubuntu-ocaml-status/raw/


As you have probably seen, we have done major improvements to MapOSMatic during Christmas, at both the web site level and the rendering level. I won't go into details, just read our initial announcement. Since then, we are continuing our improvements on maposmatic web front-end and ocitysmap back-end, with a new web site layout, translation of web site and maps in many languages (Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Russian). Many thanks to the numerous contributors!

We still have a lot of things to do or bugs to fix but the feedback is very positive and rewarding! Many thanks!

Thu 03 Dec 2009

Installation of Linux Ubuntu Karmic Koala (9.10) on an ASUS UL30A-QX090V laptop

ASUS UL30A -- © 2009 David Mentré, license CC-BY-SA I recently installed an Ubuntu Karmic Koala (9.10) Linux distribution on an ASUS UL30A-QX090V laptop. The installation went rather smoothly. You'll find below the useful details.

Despite being in favour of reimbursement of software bundled with hardware, I decided to keep the pre-installed proprietary Windows 7 64 bits. It will allow me to test Windows 7, compare it with my Ubuntu system and test Free Software on Windows.

Under Windows 7: make room for Linux

One needs to make room for the Linux system on the 320 Gb hard disk. Fortunately, Windows is installed in a 74 GB partition and there is one 208 GB empty partition.

So, go to Windows icon -> Computer -> Right-click -> Manage -> Storage -> Disk Management. Three partitions are available:

  • 14,65 GB: no name and not mounted, probably for system re-installation;
  • 74,52 GB (C:) : Windows 7;
  • 208,92 GB (D:) : DATA, empty partition.

One needs to remove DATA partition. Right-click on this partition and choose Remove volume.

If you have a different laptop with no free partition, it might be useful to know that Windows Vista and Windows 7 can resize partitions using the same pre-installed program.

Under my current Ubuntu computer: prepare the USB installation key

I download the ISO image of the latest Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10 in 64 bits version: the machine has 4 GB of RAM and you can only access 3 GB with a 32 bits system.

After download, I checked that the MD5 checksum is correct. In a terminal, do "md5sum ubuntu-9.10-desktop-amd64.iso" and search for the result in the UbuntuHashes web page.

I then use usb-creator to setup an USB key with this dowloaded image. Plug in your USB key. Start usb-creator from System -> Administration -> USB Boot Disk Creator. Select the ISO image you have just downloaded and chose the USB key you have just plugged in. Then press Create button. I chose to not use an area where data can be saved on the USB key.

By the way, usb-creator installs what is needed on the USB key and makes it bootable, but it keeps the FAT32 file system so the key can still be used as a regular USB key to share documents.

On the ASUS UL30A-QX090V Laptop: install Ubuntu

Plug in the USB key and power on the laptop.

By pressing F2 when the ASUS logo is displayed, go to the BIOS and configure it to boot on the USB key. The magic trick: the USB key is seen as a hard drive! So you must go to the hard drive boot order sub-menu to put the USB key in first position, before the real hard drive. Save and exit from the BIOS through F10.

The machine then reboots and should boot on the USB key (or do a cold start by powering off then powering on the laptop).

Install Ubuntu as usual. I used the biggest free space, letting Ubuntu chose the partitioning. As this is a laptop, I also chose to encrypt the user's home folder.

After a reboot, you now have a shiny new Linux system on your laptop! Enjoy! :-)

What's working

I haven't tested everything yet. Right now:

  • Working: wired and wireless network (WiFi tested using WPA2), sound output, display at native screen resolution, extended touchpad (emulation of mouse scroll wheel and right-click), processor frequency scaling according to actual use, SDHC card reader;
  • Not tested: sound input, webcam, battery autonomy, 3D acceleration[1], hibernation, external display output (VGA and HDMI);
  • Not woking: nothing yet! ;-)


[1] But special effects are available on the desktop, so I assume 3D acceleration can be used

Thu 19 Nov 2009

OCaml on Ubuntu: looking for a new maintainer

HELP At some point I helped keeping the OCaml packages on Ubuntu in good shape, especially for the Karmic 9.10 release.

Unfortunately, I have much less free time those days and can no longer monitor OCaml packages on Ubuntu. Is anybody willing to work on this?

The main job is to look at the Debian packages and check if they are currently available in Ubuntu, and rebuild them if necessary. When the OCaml compiler changes (fortunately not so often), one needs to trigger a rebuild of all packages and that can be a bit difficult, mainly because LaunchPad does not provide an interface to rebuild several packages, taking into account their dependencies.

Of course, I would help anybody willing to do that job (explain the needed scripts, issues I had, etc.).

Thu 23 Jul 2009

Transition to OCaml 3.11.1 has started in Karmic

OCaml I previously mentioned that Ubuntu Karmic currently ships with OCaml 3.11.0 and all associated libraries and programs. While it is nice to have a coherent set of OCaml packages, it would be much better to the latest coherent set of OCaml packages in Karmic! :-) Debian initiated its own transition to 3.11.1 about 4 weeks ago and this transition is nearly finished (and took in fact only 3 weeks).

I therefore raised the issue of such a transition for Karmic. After a few questions, it has been agreed upon to start a similar transition in Karmic. Moreover Andrea Gasparini, an Ubuntu's Master Of The Universe (aka MOTU), volunteered to help me. Se we opened the first bug initiating the transition. Overall, there are 124 source packages to synchronize or recompile in 6 successive rounds.

One can monitor the status of the transition of the Ubuntu OCaml transition monitor. A comparative list of source package versions between Debian unstable and Ubuntu karmic is also available.

Thu 25 Jun 2009

Transition to OCaml 3.11.1 has started in Debian

Debian The 24th of June, the Debian package for new upstream OCaml 3.11.1 has been uploaded. Thus upload marks the start of the transition to OCaml 3.11.1 in Debian Sid (aka unstable). Right now, the new package has been successfully built on most of Debian supported architectures.

Following this first round, other packages are being uploaded in successive rounds. You can follow this transition on Stéphane Glondu's dedicated OCaml transition monitor.[1]

The count-down has started. We will see how much time it will take to do this transition for the 138 source packages.

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