March 30th, 2013


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.