[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
Sometimes a good argument is necessary to get everything out in the open
and to make a little progress. That seems to be the case with the
current XFree86 controversy.
If you haven't been following it, the furor started when XFree86
developer Keith Packard was ousted from the Core Team. Apparently,
Packard was trying to start a fork of the project without discussing the issue with other Core Team members first.
After the dust had settled, somewhat, the XFree86 Project's board issued
invitation to discuss "Any topics...from those related to
administrative and management issues through to technical issues." In
just eight days, more than 700 messages have been sent to the list. A
lot of ideas have been thrown around, including a joint
statement from the GNOME and KDE projects.
Packard has now made public some of his complaints with the current
status of the XFree86 Project. His "A Call
For Open Governance Of X Development" posits that there are a number
of problems with development of XFree86. Specifically, Packard writes
that XFree86 suffers from limited development resources, slow release
schedules, a lack of cooperation with other projects and a lack of
information on how to get involved with XFree86 development. Packard
concludes that XFree86 needs to be a community-governed project.
The XFree86 Project has already responded to
Packard's complaint that there is a lack of information on becoming a
developer by adding a prominent link to the front page titled "How to
become an XFree86 Developer." Short and to the point, it nevertheless
provides some guidance for interested developers: "Get and build the
latest XFree86 code from the CVS repository, subscribe to the XFree86
developer list (devel@XFree86.org) and participate."
David Wexelblat, one of the Core Team members, notes that the issue of infrequent releases, at least in terms of card support, is a non-issue:
I will ALSO point out for the record that ever since we did the loadable
driver thing, there is NO NEED for XFree86 to put out a release to get
new device support (or so the theory goes). The card vendors can do it.
Nvidia does it, and ATI does it, right? Yes, there is more work to do on
ABI-type issues to make this work better, but the drivers are not built
into the server binaries any more.
David Dawes, head of the XFree86 Board of Directors and leader of the
core team has
committed to tagging regular snapshots, every two weeks, of the CVS
trunk. This doesn't address the question of more frequent stable
releases, but it should provide a way for more people to be involved in
testing XFree86 and providing feedback.
Wexelblat also disagrees that XFree86 should be community-governed.
"There is no reason to change the meritocracy, other than to work on
promoting sufficient people through it, of sufficient
skill/quality/integridy [sic] to get the work done." Rich Murphey,
another member of the XFree86 board, agrees
that "sweat equity" is the
best way to have influence on the direction of the project. "Join
devel, write code, join core. That's how it works...I don't see a more
effective solution than that."
Both Packard and Wexelblat agree that XFree86 could benefit from
additional resources. Wexelblat raises the issue of poor support for
XFree86 by commercial companies:
Another thing to note is that XFree86 has dramatically less commercial
support than just about any "cornerstone" Open Source project. Maybe
that's because of our "meritocracy" and focus on individual
contributors; I dunno. I know that these companies have LOTS of people
working on Linux kernels, databases, desktops, whatever, and bloody few
pay very many to work on X. So it mostly falls to a very small handful
of people. Who are pretty much volunteering, and doing what they can
when they can...For many of the things commercial entities complain
about, I say "put up or shut up".
Given the importance of XFree86 to the long-term success of Linux on the
desktop, now might be a good time for some of the Linux companies to
step up support for XFree86. It seems clear that, regardless of other
changes, XFree86 development will remain a meritocracy.
However, the attention now being focused on the project is likely to
produce some long-term benefits despite the initial unpleasantness.
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