Matthew Garrett (mjg59) wrote,
Matthew Garrett
mjg59

This thread on the Sun initiative to produce a more Linux-like distribution of OpenSolaris is interesting not so much for the technical goals, but as an insight into the community. The immediate response to the proposal? A set of complaints that it hasn't followed the correct process.

Now, to be fair, there have been other threads discussing the technical and social desirability of such a distribution already and some are still ongoing - it's not like the OpenSolaris community has ignored it entirely in favour of process fetishising. However, it's indicative of a community that's more concerned with procedure than it is with producing high quality software. What I suspect has happened is that Sun felt it was important to ensure that procedures were put in place before creating a community in order to avoid the problem of it immediately turning into low-grade anarchy. The problem with this is that if you create procedures before you create community, the people who end up enforcing the procedures tend to be the sort of people who find enforcing procedures to be the interesting part of the job rather than the ones who see them as necessary evils to enforce moderately sensible community development.

Sun's clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place here. They don't want to be seen to be directing the community too strongly, or they'd end up like Red Hat did with Fedora - you alienate your community by giving them the impression that they have no influence over the direction of the distribution. On the other hand, the rapid growth of the Ubuntu community strongly suggests that having a strong leader can ensure that people don't get too bogged down in procedure at the cost of technical progress.

I suspect that Sun made the wrong call here. Having more corporate influence to begin with might have put off some contributors, but it would also have allowed the development of a functional community at an earlier stage. Sun could then gradually withdraw (as Red Hat have been doing with Fedora) and let the community play a larger role. Perhaps that way we'd hear more about the technical contributions coming out of OpenSolaris and they wouldn't be left with just the same two cards they've been playing for a couple of years now - dtrace and ZFS.

On something of a tangent, I don't think their choice of license has helped a great deal here. Two of the areas where OpenSolaris is most behind Linux are hardware support and desktop/kernel integration. The choice of a GPL-incompatible license strongly discourages any Linux developers from working with the low-level code of OpenSolaris due to the perceived risk of contaminating the Linux codebase at some later point. That rules out a huge pool of skilled developers (I'm going to be potentially controversial here and say that I suspect Linux has a larger skillset here than all the BSDs put together, and quite possibly Solaris added to that) who are writing a good deal of advanced code. Meanwhile we're left with OpenSolaris having even worse laptop support than FreeBSD. These are people who could have added to the community socially as well as technically. Instead you've got a community led by a set of Sun staff who are paranoid about doing anything that might make it look like Sun controls the community. Score.
Tags: advogato, ubuntu
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