A long, long time ago, packaging was an exciting idea. There were disputes over style and process, there was innovation. There were reasons to prefer .deb over .rpm over emerge and its binary packages…
Today, these differences are just a hindrance. The fact that there are so many divergent packaging systems in the free software world (and I include the various *bsd’s) is a waste of time and energy. We want to focus the collective brainpower of the community on features and bugs, not on packaging. I would like to see the LSB renamed to the FSB – the “Free Software Base”, and get buy-in from the *BSD’s, and then I’d like to see us define distribution-neutral packaging that suits both the source-heads and the distro-heads. Then there’d be sufficient rationale for the relevant upstreams to include that packaging framework in their revision control repositories, and distro patches would become far more exchangeable.
Ubuntu isn’t built on secret sauce in the packaging. We don’t think our patches should be hoarded – we mail them all to Debian daily anyway, and publish them as best we can on the web the instant they are uploaded, often before.
Packaging is also one area where we can definitively improve on the real user experience for most people who treat computers as a job not a passion. It’s a strategic tool in the battle between proprietary and open approaches. I often think that the proprietary software world’s way of distributing software is one of its biggest weaknesses – an Achilles Heel that we should be exploiting to the full extent possible. I’m often asked why Linux can’t make it easy to “write something like Microsoft Installer, or Installshield”. That’s the wrong rabbithole, Alice. Linux can make it so when you dream of databases, PostgreSQL or MySQL are “just there” and “just work”. That’s a much nicer experience – we should make the most of it.