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Open projects and secret plans

As of this writing, the GNOME.org front page features the following text:

At 9am, April 19th 2007, join industry leaders and community developers for a major announcement about Open Source and Free Software mobility.

This announcement will be made by Jeff Waugh, who has also promoted the event on the GNOME mailing lists with this request:

Those paying close attention over the last 12 months will have a fair idea what this is about, but please resist the temptation to reply to this post about it, as we're hoping to keep it under wraps until Thursday.

This, in turn, has raised some eyebrows within the GNOME community. It has been pointed out that the GNOME Foundation charter reads like this:

In almost every sense of the word, GNOME is an open project. This is one of our greatest strengths, has always been, and should be the balefire by which we plot our course into the future...

This principle has real, concrete meaning for the foundation: All discussions must be publicly viewable, any person must have the opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process, and every GNOME contributor must have the direct ability to influence the decisions which are made.

How, it was asked, do secret plans for a high-profile announcement of a major new direction for the project fit with those words from the charter? Where is the "publicly viewable" discussion which led up to these plans? How has it been possible for any person within the community to contribute to the process which led to this decision? Some developers see this sort of secrecy as being inconsistent with the open ideals of the GNOME project, and they have been asking why things are being done this way.

Jeff has explained the reasons behind this move:

We'd like to exploit the promotional potential of this announcement for the betterment of the GNOME community and the commercial ecosystem around it. It is, in effect, a public secret -- the Board knows, the Advisory Board knows, a particular subset of the community knows (and have been participating for ~9 months) and heaps of people in the broader community know about it but just don't know that's what we're announcing.

Your editor is not privy to the substance of this announcement - though, as it happens, he will be present when the announcement is made, so stay tuned. Members of the GNOME community have been talking about taking advantage of opportunities in the embedded area for some time now, though. The venue the project has chosen (the Embedded Linux Conference) and the discussion of "mobility" give some strong hints as well. So it may well be that the core of this announcement will not come as a great surprise to active members of the GNOME project.

More to the point, there are limits to how much a group like the GNOME board can change the direction of such a big project. The project's direction will be determined (and demonstrated) by the code, documentation, artwork, and so on which gets created and contributed; there is little else that matters. Perhaps the board can arrange partnerships with companies which may result in the creation of certain kinds of code; as long as that code is developed in a community-friendly manner and does not bypass the normal review process, there is little to complain about.

Still, it's hard to avoid just a touch of discomfort with the sight of free software projects behaving like corporations. Hype-building, press releases, and flashy announcements may succeed in attracting the attention of the press, but they are not the best way for these projects to communicate with their users. We all benefit from the transparency that the free software process provides; free software users are generally happy to avoid the sorts of surprises that come with proprietary code. We do not need to be - and don't want to be - herded by way of carefully planned press events.

That does not appear to be what's going on here; instead, the GNOME board has simply chosen a relevant conference to announce projects that some GNOME developers have been working on for some time. Perhaps some companies will announce that they intend to use and support this work. It may well be true that the board's tactics will lead to wider coverage of what's going on, with a presumably positive effect on the GNOME user and developer communities. As long as the GNOME developer community is not surprised by what comes out, all should be well. But projects which want to take this approach in the future should always think carefully whether their attempts to catch the flighty attention of the press may leave their core developers feeling left out.


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Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 16, 2007 21:57 UTC (Mon) by newren (guest, #5160) [Link]

I think you missed some important bits of the thread, which I found interesting. From Havoc:
As a footnote, I'm pretty sure one of the original reasons we created the board back in the day was to be able to do things like this - give GNOME a way to coordinate press releases without "breaking" them (press releases simply don't work if discussed in public in advance). Another reason for the board is to be able to talk to companies that aren't ready to go public with their plans.
From Dave:
While the board (and many other people) are fully aware of what's happening next week, and are very excited about it (at least, I am), this is a community initiative, and not a board initiative. Jeff's the community member who's been driving the effort, but many people are involved, and most of them are not on the board.
From my perspective, I don't see anything wrong at all with what's going on or how it's been handled (Note that I'm not on the board and do not know what the announcement is, so my perspective is that of an outside observer). I'm looking forward to Thursday to see what "those paying attention" means more precisely (i.e. to find out whether the announcement is something along the lines of other stuff I've seen or whether it surprises me).

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 16, 2007 22:14 UTC (Mon) by jdub (subscriber, #27) [Link]

Rock -- I'm glad you picked this up, Jon. It's a deeply interesting discussion from my point of view, with lots of valid viewpoints on either side. I'm doubly glad that you'll be at ELC so I can chat with you about it further.

Of course, I mostly hope that what we're announcing is interesting and timely enough that it makes it into this week's LWN. I'd hate to miss the schedule of my favourite news site. ;-)

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 17, 2007 0:53 UTC (Tue) by roelofs (guest, #2599) [Link]

Of course, I mostly hope that what we're announcing is interesting and timely enough that it makes it into this week's LWN. I'd hate to miss the schedule of my favourite news site.

Alas, I think cross-timezone pollination has doomed you... LWN is typically published about 14 hours in advance of your scheduled announcement. :-)

Greg

P.S. That would be Wednesday around 7-8pm US/Pacific.

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 17, 2007 1:21 UTC (Tue) by jdub (subscriber, #27) [Link]

Boh! I have it imprinted on my brain that "Thursday is LWN day!" Ah well. ;-)

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 19, 2007 11:24 UTC (Thu) by wookey (subscriber, #5501) [Link]

It is :-) usually appears by 1am thursday here (UK/GMT)

(Not that I'm the kind of guy who clicks impatiently on 'refresh' from wednesday midnight - no, that would be really sad...)

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 16, 2007 22:22 UTC (Mon) by roelofs (guest, #2599) [Link]

At 9am, April 19th 2006 ...

Always amusing when a "global" project leaves everybody guessing...

For those who didn't click through to the second page and notice that the conference is apparently being held in proximity to the Tech Museum of San Jose, i.e., California, USA: the timezone in question presumably is US/Pacific. ;-)

Greg

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 16, 2007 22:30 UTC (Mon) by jdub (subscriber, #27) [Link]

Being Australian, I am usually more sensitive to the timezone problem (we are from the future), but in this case I just couldn't bring myself to uglify it by adding timezone foo in there. I figure people can click. ;-)

Time zones are evil, UTC is luverly

Posted Apr 19, 2007 8:01 UTC (Thu) by liw (subscriber, #6379) [Link]

To me, in an announcement meant for a global audience, not giving a time zone implies inconsideration. Not a lot, of course, but enough to be disappointing.

I always assume the default in such announcements is UTC. I'm reading this at about 08:00 UTC, so was excited that I'd learn the secret in an hour. From the comments I learn that the time zone actually is US/Pacific time, so I'll have to wait 8 hours, not one.

I'm an instant gratification junkie. I was promised a hit and then denied it. This little time zone detail is enough to turn me from excited to sour.

Time zones are evil, UTC is luverly

Posted Apr 20, 2007 0:38 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

Well, there was a clue: UTC doesn't have AM and PM, so 9am couldn't be UTC.

I agree time zones are evil. I'd like to see not only global announcements made in UTC, but all local everyday timekeeping in UTC as well. Long ago, the convenience of "9am" being the same part of the day everywhere was surpassed by the inconvenience of it being a different moment everywhere.

Open projects and secret plans

Posted Apr 17, 2007 3:34 UTC (Tue) by bajw (guest, #11712) [Link]

Small detail, on the gnome.org page, it correctly has the year printed as 2007.


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