People outside of the Gentoo Linux
project may be surprised to learn that the Gentoo developers are currently
electing a new management council. Unlike, say, Debian, Gentoo tends to do
a fair amount of its deliberations out of public view. There has recently
been a discussion, however, which has brought out some of the concerns that
Gentoo developers have. Here are some excerpts.
I started my fourth year as a Gentoo developer in June, and Gentoo's
changed a lot since I started back in 2003. We've become a drastically
more democratic organization. But the question remains - _Is this a good
When I think about where Gentoo was when we turned into a democracy
years ago, and where Gentoo is now, I don't see much of a difference on
the large scale. We lack any global vision for where Gentoo is going, we
can't agree on who our audience is, and everyone's just working on
pretty much whatever they feel like. [...]
I'm not the only one to suggest that a democracy isn't the most
productive way to run Gentoo. When people wanted to change in how Gentoo
was run, democracy was the only option considered, rather than simply
changing the leaders. There's an ongoing assumption that if problems
exist, it must be somewhere in the structure rather than in the people.
If I could go back in time a couple of years and prevent this democracy
from ever happening, I would. If I could fix these problems myself, I
would. But it requires buy-in from the entire Gentoo community if we're
to do anything about it.
-- Donnie Berkholz
In addition to the conclusion that too much freedom has entered the
life-blood that drives Gentoo it is also often the case that from the
stance of upper management there is not enough freedom given. Part of
what paralyzes the Council and devrel and any other historical body that
has tried to keep Gentoo healthy is that there is an understanding that
they can only act as a whole...as individuals none of them have power as
there is fear that a rogue person in a position to abuse their
responsibility will do so. It is my contention that with a body of
multiple individuals such as the Council that there would be the ability
to recognize and mitigate the damage done by such a rogue. I'd posit
that by voting someone onto the council you are saying that you trust
them enough to carry this duty on their shoulders. The Council itself
should not be just a technical body to validate the merits of GLERs
and/or emerging projects, it (or some other yet to be established group)
has to carry the solemn duty of carrying Gentoo into the future,
nurturing it as only a parent could....
All in all I suppose that is the platform that I am running on for this
years Council...take it for what you will but that is where I stand.
-- Daniel Ostrow
If there's a lack of
respect at the moment, it's not for devrel.
It's between individual developers, who either do not value each other
as people, or do not value each other as contributors.
A good way to sort that out is to get them together in the physical
world, and use group de-polarisation exercises to help folks
understand that their view of the world isn't the only view that is
valid. This is why I'm hoping to see Gentoo establish a regular
international dev conference. You'll find that the vast majority of
issues won't arise once folks actually know each other better - and
the personality clashes that are left are easier to see for what they
-- Stuart Herbert
Maybe its a cultural thing between some of us, or maybe its the
'pre-daniel' versus 'post-daniel' devs. I'm curious the demographics of
our active developers that were on prior to daniel's leaving compared to
those who joined after. To most of the recent active folks, they never
knew what it was like before. Hell, I just got on towards the tail end
of the daniel-era, so I don't have much validity in that realm myself!
But I do remember how it used to be and how well we did things and how
we usually respected each other in some fashion or another.
I'm afraid those days are in the past unless some kind of fork happens
where the folks who think we need a leader go their way and the folks
who prefer the leader-by-committee approach go their way. We all hate
forks, none of us have time for forks, but looking at the dividing line,
I don't see how we'll be able to compromise with out adding more
policies and BS.
-- Lance Albertson
It's very easy to claim that "there are too many flamewars", even if
that isn't actually true. It's hard to claim "Portage needs replacing,
the tree has huge QA issues, several archs are horribly unmaintained and
too many developers don't have a clue what they're doing" because a)
they're difficult problems to address, b) if you do say them, Condorcet
ensures that you won't get elected and c) you might be expected to fix
Most of these problems could be solved if we had a council that was far
less spineless, a council that's prepared to address the *real* issues
rather than doing nothing, a council that shows leadership and provides
direction where it's needed without screwing things up where it's not.
-- Ciaran McCreesh
I definitely agree here. What has made me decide to run for the council
is my wish to see things improve before we honestly do start
hemorrhaging developers. We have seen indications that it is coming,
but it hasn't started quite yet. A strong leadership is needed to give
us direction where needed, and also to leave people well enough alone
where it is not needed.
-- Chris Gianelloni
At the top level, the council, in its present form does not manage
Gentoo. It can't, it's pretty much disempowered as a management
organisation due to the rules for its agenda setting. Further, don't
see any any evidence of it setting targets and measuring progress or
even getting progress reports.
-- Roy Bamford
So, now straight to the point, we could elect a Core Team, including
people from each team. And those will be the responsible to take Gentoo
into new 'realms', with its 'risks' included. I am also scared about this
model .. it might not work, it actually might create the next armageddon
for many. But what if it does?, it might help solving this stagnation
state Gentoo is facing right now, and bring more new ideas into play.
-- Luis F. Araujo
There's no detail in what you want to do, only a vague unhappiness
with how things are, a desire to return to the "good old days" that
never were, backed up by arguments that are demonstrably and factually
incorrect or incomplete.
What is your plan? Where do you want to take Gentoo, where it isn't
already going? ...
_If_ you're looking at Ubuntu with envious eyes, my advice is that you
cross the floor and join them. There's no sense whatsoever in putting
Gentoo head-to-head with any of the other Linux distros, unless they
try to come after what we are good at.
-- Stuart Herbert
As an aside, this has long been the fundamental structural problem in
the open source movement. Within a given project, things generally find
a way to get done, but when a problem lies between two projects (be they
peers, one dependent on the other, whatever) then things often remain
This is actually the cutting edge area in the free software movement at
the moment - trying to find a common ground for not just projects but
constellations of projects and above them distros to collaborate.
-- Andrew Cowie
In this context, it can also be interesting to read Matthew Garrett's note
on his departure from the Debian Project:
There's a balance to be struck between organisational freedom and
organisational effectiveness. I'm not convinced that Debian has
that balance right as far as forming a working community goes. In
that respect, Ubuntu's an experiment - does a more rigid structure
and a greater willingness to enforce certain social standards
result in a more workable community?
The management of large-scale projects is hard - this has been known for
centuries (or longer). Free software projects bring in some interesting new factors,
however, as a result of their voluntary nature and distribution over a wide
range of languages and cultures. We are unlikely to find definitive
solutions to issues which have been around so long, but, perhaps, we'll
learn some interesting lessons in the attempt.
to post comments)