A controversial fund-raising project has contributed to the delay of the next release of Debian, the open source organisation has admitted.

Earlier this year a group of Debian contributors created the Dunc-Tank.org with the aim of releasing Etch “on time” through its structure. helping "the release of Etch happen on time". Etch is the code name for the entirely volunteer-based upcoming Linux distribution release of Debian.

Dunc-Tank funded Debian's two release managers, Steve Langasek in October and Andreas Barth in November, to work full time and help Etch hit its 4 December release date.

Long release delays have been a persistent problem with Debian, one factor that led to the creation of the Debian-based Ubuntu project. Ubuntu has a commercially oriented sponsor in the form of Canonical, founded by South African IT billionaire Mark Shuttleworth.

In a progress report on Monday, Barth admitted that while the experiment had sped up some aspects of development, it had failed in other respects that hadn't allowed Etch to finish on time. "There was a large disadvantage to the whole experiment: Some people who used to do good work reduced their involvement drastically," Barth wrote. The release is fully frozen now but hasn't yet been officially released, Barth noted.

Barth's comments confirm what Dunc-Tank's critics pointed out back in October, when the fund-raising experiment launched – that the decision to pick two contributors out for full-time funding was causing volunteer contributors to lose interest.

In late October, a group of Debian contributors led by Jörg Jaspert voiced their concerns in a letter to a Debian developer mailing list. They argued it was already clear that Etch wouldn't hit its release target date, partly due to bickering over Dunc-Tank.org, and that as the project continued it would only cause more problems.

"People left the project, others are orphaning packages, the NEW queue is rising, system administration and security work is reduced, DWN is no longer released weekly and a lot of otherwise silent maintainers simply put off Debian work and work on something else," Jaspert wrote. "All the listed points are explicitly due to DT. Compared to possible benefits one may see – e.g. releasing near a time we promised to release at – in our opinion this is not worth the trouble DT already got us in."

Barth denied that Dunc-Tank had been a complete failure, however. He said he has been "quite happy with the involvement of most developers in the release" and said his own ability to contribute – mainly fixing critical release bugs – had improved significantly due to Dunc-Tank.

"Looking at the status changes during the time I spent full-time on release issues I think it worked well," he wrote. "I am happy with my own involvement, but that doesn't necessarily apply to the full experiment."