Debian may drop MIPS as an official release architecture

Bas Wijnen wijnen at
Fri Oct 4 22:46:46 EDT 2013

As a Debian Developer, I feel I need to reply to this one.  The summary is that
I think we at Debian set our priorities different from you; we value freedom
for our users more than you do, and you want more customizibility than we
easily provide.

On Fri, Oct 04, 2013 at 02:48:19PM -0700, R Paxton wrote:
> Is this really true?

It's certainly not final yet.  But the question was asked whether people are
interested in maintaining any of the ports (which mostly means checking for and
fixing architecture-specific bugs), and there were very few replies for MIPS.
Without porters, we can't support the architecture.

Note that porters don't need to be Debian Developers; anyone who wants to (and
can) put time into it can do it.  I think we will probably even be able to give
you access to hardware.  So if anyone on this list is interested, look up the
recent archives of debian-project at and reply to the thread.

> Debian has been nothing but problems for me over time. APT is so complex
> that I can't even set my own compiler flags for my software like CCFLAGS
> and USE flags (for Gentoo)

This is not something that Debian tries to do.  If you want to compile your own
system, Gentoo is the right choice for you.  This is not a failure of Debian,
you simply want to use if for something it wasn't meant for.

Debian provides its users with what we call "binary packages".  Those are
compiled programs, with compiler settings that the maintainer likes.  It is all
free software, and if you want to hack on a package, it's easy to get the
source (apt-get source $package), change it and recompile it (debuild) and
install that recompiled package (dpkg -i $package).  But it's not Debian's goal
to provide an easy way to automatically compile everything locally; this is
something that you are only expected to do in special cases.

That being said, there's nothing stopping you from automating the process and
downloading, compiling and installing huge amounts of source packages.  Because
it's not what we expect people to do, we don't provide the tools for it.  But
you're certainly welcome to do it.

Actually, this is pretty trivial as long as you don't look at the dependencies;
the hard part is "I want this package" and then the system tells you "you'll
need all these packages as well".  That's what is properly solved for binary
packages, but that system can't be used on source packages, just because we
didn't intend it for that.

> unless I use something like my own local repo with deb package source files.

If you want Debian to work like Gentoo, what you really want to do is rewrite
(or hack) apt, so instead of getting a binary package it will get a source
package, patch it, compile it, and use the result.  The problem is that you
want to get all the dependencies first, including the build dependencies.
That's not a trivial task, but it can certainly be done.  Then again,
installing Gentoo is an easier way to achieve that goal.  I don't have enough
experience with Gentoo to know what the downsides of such a switch are (I'm
sure there are some), but if this is important for you, you will probably
consider them minor.

> I might just have to consider switching all of my systems to Gentoo/FreeBSD
> if Debian still cannot get their policies and issues straightened out.

I don't understand what you're saying here.  Which policy or what issue don't
we have straigthened out?

MIPS being removed as an official release architecture can happen if nobody
wants to do the work to support it.  Nobody likes that, but do you see other
options?  We're an organization of volunteers; we can't force people to work on

> They've even removed Virtualbox from the free repo because it's compiled
> with a proprietary compiler.

I didn't know this specific example, but yes, we do those sort of things.  You
know why?  Because we want to protect *your* freedom.  We want to maky sure
that you, as a user, don't have to worry about licenses.  If you install a
program in Debian, and think "I want to improve this", then we want you to know
that you can.  You can get the source, change it, compile it again and use the
result.  And you will not be required to install anything non-free for doing
this.  So if a program cannot be compiled with only free software, then it
cannot be a part of Debian main.  Obviously it's not nice that we keep useful
software out of the distribution that way.  But that's the price you pay for
freedom: you cannot use things which force you to give up your freedom.

And by the way, if you don't care about your freedom, we even provide you with
a non-free repository where you can find lots of things that are free of
charge, but don't give you the freedoms we think you should have.  So if you
say "I want Virtualbox and I don't care that I cannot recompile it", then by
all means feel free to install it from the non-free section (or, in this case,
I suppose, contrib).  Why is that a problem?

I mean, you can as well complain that Photoshop isn't in Debian.  You can say
our users are really missing out because now they can't use this program.  But
people who use that program give up their freedom to view and change the source
code.  We don't want them to do that.  We want our users to know that we care
about their freedom.  That if we put something in Debian, they don't need to
read the license.  They don't need to check if they need a non-free compiler if
they want to use their changes.  We checked it for them, and the fact that we
put it in Debian means that it was good.  This is in fact the main reason for
me to be a Debian user; I like the comfort of not reading licenses.  I hate
doing that.

If you don't care about your freedom, then you can use our non-free section,
but there are also many other distributions that you may like better.  If you
do care, you don't have many other choices.  Debian is one of the few who
really cares about this (Fedora is the only other one I know about).  Some
commercial ones even make it sound like giving up your freedom is something you
should pay for.  If you like that reasoning, you should check them out. ;-)

> And Wine nowadays does not even work right for me under Debian. How dumb is
> that?

I haven't tried it in the last years, but wine never worked reliably for me (on
any system, not just Debian).  I always thought the reason was that Microsoft
made it hard to copy their interface, by not documenting half of it and adding
weird hidden features.  You make it sound like Debian did something to make it
break.  While that is possible, I'd be interested to know what that is.
Usually it has to do with freedom: we want things to work, but we also want our
users to have freedom.  When those two don't go together, we make a choice.  It
seems we choose freedom more often than you do.  That's not right or wrong;
it's just a matter of priorities.

> Because of changes like these that the Debian folks make, it makes the entire
> system more and more unstable every time.

We have a "stable" distribution, which is incredibly stable.  As far as I know,
no other GNU/Linux distribution comes even close to the stability of that (but
the *BSD guys may; I don't know much about them).  This comes at the cost of
slightly (and sometimes significantly) outdated software.  When reading your
post, I guess you find that too high a price.  So you probabaly have "unstable"
installed.  That's really only for developers, who know that at times things
will break.  We try not to, of course, but there's a reason it's called
"unstable".  If you install that and things break, you shouldn't complain.
Instead, you should file bugs.  With patches, if possible.

Note that many other distributions have only an unstable branch.  Sure, it may
be broken less often recently, but it may be more broken some other time.

> I'm not saying anyone should stay away from Debian if they drop MIPS, but
> at least try the Portage and Ports system too in Gentoo and FreeBSD before
> deciding that Debian has "simply the best package manager".

I don't really feel like installing a new system just because "someone on the
internet said it was good". ;-)  Can you tell me what's so good about it?  I
don't have recent experience with anything except Debian, so I really don't
know how it compares to other systems.  If you can highlight the differences
between Debian, Gentoo and FreeBSD, that would be even better.


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