[forum] communication

Owen Taylor forum@XFree86.Org
23 Mar 2003 19:52:59 -0500

On Sun, 2003-03-23 at 16:39, Egbert Eich wrote:
> Owen Taylor writes:
>  > 
>  > But the fact that nobody other than Keith was working on these
>  > issues and getting stuff into XFree86 makes one wonder about structural 
>  > problems; from my perhaps biased perspective, this stuff is really
>  > a lot more interesting than support for flavor-of-the-day of some
>  > chipset, so you'd think that interested developers would be 
>  > crawling out of the woodwork. Perhaps the problem is that
>  > without current developers around to discuss, and review changes
>  > in this area, there is no way for developers to become engaged
>  > and eventually trusted.
> Well, involvement in a project usually starts with an ache
> to fix. This is certainly how my involvment started back in 1995.
> I just figured that nobody but me would care about my problem.
> We don't have an expert there for every field. But is
> stopped from acquiring the expertise, and get started 
> on something.
> Look at Kamil Toman and Ivan Pascal who dived into xkb
> and added various enhancements. There wasn't  an
> expert on xkb in XFree86, now there is one.
> I think it is more a matter of attitude: In the one case somebody
> identified a problem and didn't hesitate to get his feet wet,
> in the other case someone just went and called for help.

I might start to believe this if my experience with contributing
to XFree86 clearly the second most discouraging of all the
dozens of open source projects where I've sent patches.

My experience with XFree86 is:

 - If I send in an _obviously_ correct trivial patch, 6 months 
   later it will magically appear in CVS without any feedback.

 - If I send mail to one of the mailing lists along the 
   lines "There is a problem at location X, here's a possible patch,
   could someone check it over", there will be complete
   and utter silence.

 - The SAVESET extension, submitted with a working implementation
   and docs gained zero interest other than from Keith and
   Jim. Until equivalent functionality was committed to CVS
   as part of XFIXES, proximately causing this whole mess.
   (Not saying that was handled in the best manner, but there
   was certainly some evidence to back up the belief that
   nobody else cared.)

I'm not doubting that if I could work on XFree86 full time
I could get some traction as a contributor, but it's definitely 
always looked a lot more like a barbed wire fence rather than a 
red carpet. Maybe this has changed now.

The XKB work has been great, and I thought of pointing to it
in my mail as an example where things worked well. But then
again, Ivan Pascal was the world's leading expert on XKB long 
before he started sending patches to XFree86...


>  >         to work on stuff they aren't interested in working on
>  >         (or can't work on because they are paid to do drivers)
>  >         isn't going to work, but I think there would be major
>  >         value in having some group able to look at the big picture
>  >         and try to figure out how to get people involved to address
>  >         areas not being addressed.
> I'm not sure if that's the way OpenSource projects work.
> People are not looking for ideas others propose. They are
> getting started on things that they find interesting or
> give them aches.

Yes and no. People who ask "what should I work on" indeed
seldom end up contributing anything useful, but there is
a great deal that a project can do to to steer its direction
by being receptive to contributions (or rejecting them) and
even by simply defining clearly what the project is about.

>  >         Second, I think XFree86 is discovering something here that
>  >         has been discovered by many other projects previously.
>  >         Direction by consensus of developers works great only
>  >         as long as there is consensus of the developers. When
>  >         consensus breaks down, having a body that is formally
>  >         charged with the smooth running of the project can do
>  >         wonders for getting disputes resolved in a constructive
>  >         way. 
> When did you see consensus breaking down?

Well, when a public brouhaha breaks out between:

 A) The people who understand and work on the parts of XFree86
    that I'm interested in.

 B) The people in charge of the project

That doesn't look like consensus to me.