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airlied
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May 2014
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on open source development and disagreements

So I've been involved in a recent dispute on the wayland project, with a person I'd classify as a poisonous person. Basically a contributor who was doing more damage than good, and was causing unneeded disturbances. I won't comment any further on that here, but just setting the scene for writing this.

So everytime something like this happens in a project, there emerges from the woodwork, people who claim that having public discussions about these sort of things is bad for open source, or makes us look like a crowd of juvenile developers, also how you never see this thing on closed sourced projects, or with open-source projects developer in-house and thrown over the wall. I've also recently seen this crop up when Linus flamed people, and everyone wondered why he didn't do it on some sort of private list or something.

Now I can only think these people are one of:

a) never worked in a company on a major closed source project.

b) if they have, its been top down development, where managers are telling them what to do, and maybe some architect dude has drawn a load of pretty pictures and docs. Of course the architect is never wrong, but its above your pay grade to talk to someone of such authority, so when you find problems with the architecture you hack around them instead of growing a pair and standing your ground, or else you aren't good enough to notice anything wrong.

I've seen plenty of companies where developers leave due to in-fighting or transfer to a different department, this stuff never comes out and you all are none the wiser.

So open source doesn't have top-down development, its all bottom up, most contributors to major projects do so with some ideas of what they want, but they aren't been driven by a management chain. However it means that there is generally nobody to force someone into their views, and when two people collide (or in this case, one person and everyone else), something has to give, and its best to give in public, so nobody can say it was some sort of cabal or closed decision.

Now open-source is about seeing the sausage making process, you get to see all the bits of stuff you don't want to think go into the sausages, you have to face a lot more truth, and you have to be willing to stand up against things without mummy manager to back you up. You can't have all the nice benefits of open-source development without having the bad side, the public blowups and discussion, it just can't work like that. If we take all those discussions to private lists or emails, where do you draw the line, are the people on that private list some sort of shadowy cabal overlords? Do you want an open-source development model that isn't public?

I'm sure people will say why can't we all just get along? and why can't everyone act mature? well a) we are human, b) there is no HR department frontend blocking the people at the gate, there's no interview process to weed out undesirable traits before they join the project. So when someone submits patches that work you generally accept them as a contributor, and it can take a while before you realise they are doing more harm than good, at which point its going to be public.

Comments
(Anonymous)

I think you're right, but I don't think you guys are entirely blameless in this either. You might be dealing with a "poisonous person", but I'm also seeing a lot of venom in the responses to him too, which has escalated things beyond simply having a disgruntled developer.

It's the open-source way to keep this kind argument in the open, and that's a good thing. But when everything is on display for the world to see, *everyone* needs to try and act like adults. It's a bad look when one of most keenly watched projects of the moment looks like a bunch of spoiled children fighting in the playground. And that's what it looks like from the outside - it doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. Right now, *all* of you are doing more damage than good.

you ever killed a snake with niceness? can you youtube the video?

The thing is ejecting someone who doesn't want to be ejected is difficult and messy. You have totally missed the point of my post. The thing is from the outside you have to understand that you are lucky to be seeing any of this, and complaining that you are being subject to the internal workings of a project as opposed to it being done in secret to make things appear fine to larger world is a good thing, and its part of how open source differs from other development methods.

(Anonymous)

No, I understood your point, but I don't think you've understood mine. I don't think things like this should be conducted behind closed doors, as they would in a private company. And I'm not saying you should be trying to make things appear as though nothing is wrong, as if there's no conflict going on.

But when everything is done in public, it's important to consider how it looks to outsiders. And what this *should* have looked like was the devs calmly telling your poisonous individual that his contributions weren't welcome until his attitude improved, then leaving it at that. And the issue would probably have died there.

Instead, you've kept the issue alive by pursuing him across the internet, determined to argue against every last bit of perceived misinformation - and in the process, ensuring an endless stream of headlines about how disfunctional the Wayland team is. That argument on the Phoronix forums yesterday made you and Darxus look just as bad as Scott.

okay I've missed the constant stream of headlines.

he published a 4 page article on phoronix, not refuting his arguments would seem to be a bit remiss, since people for some insane reason follow phoronix, and then it gets to slashdot, the people form opinions anyways.

(Anonymous)

Is that mark shuttleworth you are talking about?

(Anonymous)

This is one of the best features of the free/open source software community. A light is being put on both the good and less good bits. Yes it may look ugly for the uninformed but I rather have this in the open than have things fester and rot in the dark!

(Anonymous)

Pretty astute! Plus, these sort of "heartfelt disagreements" are what BRANCHING is all about; if that's what it comes to; right?

> You can't have all the nice benefits of open-source development without having the bad side, the public blowups and discussion, it just can't work like that.

Different open source development communities have very different cultures in this regard. I've been working full-time on open source software for most of the last twenty years, and I've rarely been exposed to that sort of nastiness. I'm sure it is partly luck, but it is also that the open source projects that I've worked in have usually had a good tradition of civility and professionalism.

This isn't meant to be a criticism, least of all of you personally, but rather a reminder that there is a lot of variety out there in groups and cultures that you may never have even met.

(Anonymous)

I find this ironic, given you were quite poisonous in the following discussion: https://plus.google.com/113883146362955330174/posts/PXc93m8nKwk — is introspection part of this process?

Oh I missed the bit where I was in any way involved in the Mir project, external criticism of Canonical and Mir was justified for many reasons, and led to them clearing up a lot of crap about wayland they were espousing. I fail to see how this was a loss or poisonous for wayland.

also Mir wasn't at that time and open-source development project, or are there a few non-Canonical developers working on it now?

Edited at 2013-03-31 09:05 am (UTC)