Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Red Hat must be rejoicing as Debian tilts towards systemd

Red Hat must be rejoicing as Debian tilts towards systemd

The Debian GNU/Linux Project's technical committee appears to be split down the middle on the question of the default init system for the next release.

But the panel is tilting towards a compromise on systemd as the default. It means that the future direction of Linux development will be determined by Red Hat, the company that is behind systemd, and the biggest commercial entity in the Linux game.

Two more Debian technical panel members - Don Armstrong and Andreas Barth - have now declared their choices, with statements indicating which system they would support.

Armstrong has said he prefers systemd, while Barth has indicated he would like upstart.

The panel was tasked with selecting the default init system for its next release, Jessie, back in November.

Four others in the committee have indicated their choices: Ian Jackson (upstart), Russ Allberry (systemd), Bdale Garbee (systemd) and Keith Packard (systemd). Garbee, as head of the panel, is said to have a casting vote.

The two remaining members of the technical committee - Colin Watson and Steve Langasek - are both employees of Canonical which created the upstart init system.

Langasek is also the upstart maintainer for Debian. It is thus reasonable to assume that they will both support upstart as the default system.

Of course, there could be a recommendation that there be multiple init systems supported. This would, however, be a considerable impost in terms of developer time, the scarcest resource of any free or open source software project.

Given that Debian is a community project that has close to 1000 developers involved, there is still scope for the technical committee to come down on one side, and the project, through a General Resolution, to vote an entirely different way. That would not be a good look.

The panel's decision is likely to be known soon, given that three-fourths of its members have openly tilted one way or the other.

Jackson has suggested wording to be included in the decision to make systemd the default.

He wrote: "We are very concerned about the systemd upstream's history of claiming control of wide areas of functionality. We are also worried by the vigorous adoption campaign one of whose key strategies appears to be making systemd mandatory for various other software, even where the benefits of such tight coupling are minimal or alternative approaches such as operation with reduced functionality would be entirely feasible.

"In this context the systemd project's apparent lack of prioritisation of the legitimate divergence of wishes and goals on the part of its downstreams is especially worrying.

"Our selection of systemd as default is made despite these worries.  We reiterate Debian's commitment to diversity of approaches and to the freedom of our downstreams and users to make their own choices."

As Jackson pointed out, his last paragraph makes sense if the project then passes a resolution to support multiple init systems for the foreseeable future.

But his is not the last word on the subject; one thing Debian is never short of is opinions on any, and every, issue.

Jackson's draft contains mostly wishful thinking. Red Hat will take the systemd project in any direction it wishes, and create any number of dependencies that it deems will serve its interests.

The debate over upstart v systemd is a proxy war for Canonical v Red Hat, one the pretender, the other the 800-kg gorilla. Red Hat has not become a billion-dollar company by being the nice kid on the block.

Somewhere in Berlin, Lennart Poettering, the chief systemd developer, must be pouring himself a nice, cool drink and laughing out loud.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.