Debian's developer dilemma: Why Debian should vote "yes"

Debian Project votes on membership status for non-developers

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It takes all kinds to put together a Linux distribution or any open source project. Historically, though, Debian has only given full privileges to those contributors who have a developer bent. Is the project ready to recognize more contributors?

The Debian project is, in many ways, a model example of how an open source project should be run. Its Social Contract, Free Software Guidelines (DFSG), and Constitution have served the project well and influenced many other substantial FOSS projects when it comes to project governance.

But voting rights are restricted to developers, or at least that's the impression most people get when looking through the process to become a Debian Developer. It's not that the project explicitly disallows non-developers membership, it's that the path to becoming a voting member (Debian Developer) is practically hard-coded to require a contributor to maintain packages or do some kind of development. Debian Project Leader Stefano Zacchiroli put forward a General Resolution to welcome non-packaging contributors to Debian. A similar proposal came up in 2008, but was tabled for further discussion.

Some have said that Zacchiroli could do this as Debian Project Leader without calling for a resolution, but it seems to me that it'd be better to have the project vote explicitly to allow non-developers to participate as full members. Debian has, rightly or wrongly, a reputation as being a developers-only club. Explicitly opening the door to allow non-developing contributors to become Debian Developers would serve to more strongly encourage people interested in other areas to join and remain involved.

Debian is fairly weak when it comes to non-developer contributions. The project has had a hard time finding people to consistently update Debian Weekly News, has almost no marketing or art teams, and has very little in the way of end user support or forums. (Excepting the Debian-user mailing list, which can have a very heavy noise to signal ratio.)

Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and other distros have long since figured out that they need non-developing contributors. Debian is quite late to the party, but it's not too late for the project to embrace the rest of its community and encourage contributors of all stripes. The vote ends on Monday, October 18th. Here's hoping the General Resolution passes and Debian officially embraces the whole community.

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