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Steve McIntyre knew he faced a huge task when he took on the job of Debian project leader nearly six months ago. But he didn't reckon on the scandal of a major security bug, followed by a massive clear-up operation within a few days of taking over.

As if this wasn't enough McIntyre also faced a backlog of approvals for new Debian developers and the lead up to DebConf8, the annual gathering of Debian developers, in August. And then there were the preparations for the new release of Debian (Lenny) in October and the death threats to female contributors to the Debian project.

"I had a fair idea that it would be a tough job and I suppose I have made life harder for myself by taking on so much," McIntyre told The Register in an interview following Debian's 15th birthday.

"But the role is largely self-defining - you can do as much or as little as you choose. I have got a lot of technical work on Debian of my own and everything piled up around DebConf8 last month."

Debian's position as one of the most important Linux distributions, coupled with a reputation for high quality and reliability, places a huge burden on the volunteer development team and, of course, the project leader. As soon as McIntyre moved into the hot seat, he set about improving communications and promoting better collaboration among the widely spread volunteer community.

Time on your hands?

In addition to the day-to-day problems of running an open source project staffed by volunteers, McIntyre has also had to contend with two unique problems that flow from the current economic downturn. On the one hand organizations want to cut costs and see open source software as a potential solution - resulting in unprecedented demand for open source products. But on the other hand, many volunteer developers are fighting for survival and may find they have less time to spend on building new code.

McIntyre said that, while there was no doubt about the increase in demand for open source, it is too early to tell what effect the bad times will have on development.

"It is amazing how many people want to use open source now - I guess they are fed up with having to cough up for license fees. On the development side we do have people who have been let go around the industry and this will put more pressure on those that are left. We'll have to wait and see what happens."

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