Saturday, September 19, 2009

Community is Job 1

I think that in some ways I jumped the gun with that first post. This blog isn't about forking. It's about community. A community will save KDE 3, if KDE3 is meant to be saved. A community will fork KDE3 if KDE is meant to be forked.

The community is not here yet. It's just me, and one other guy who I hope will be posting in here soon. Until it exists, who knows what the community will do or not do?

KDE3 users, I urge you to seek community whereever you can. Search for references to KDE3 in twitter and follow those who use it. Seek out the KDE3 users in your lug. It isn't because the supporters have got the programming knowledge that KDE4 is kicking KDE3's ass. KDE3 doesn't need any signicant development, so it's not that much of a factor. They've got the community, we don't.

We shouldn't expect their community to pursue our goals, especially after we've been undercutting their accomplishment at every turn. Think about it: for two years, we've been raining on their parade. They may not feel like they owe us any favors.

And they'd be right. It's all us, or it's no one. It's community, or it's KDE4.

The "F word"

I’m trying to get this blog started, I have a lot to do today, and I still haven’t figured out this Word Press thing. Note: so I switched to blogspot. I’m going to get sloppy. I found a discussion of the future of KDE3 in a Gentoo blog. There’s a lot of good information in it, so I’m just going to quote from it randomly and indiscriminately, without attribution,and then link to the whole thing at the end. It discusses the lack of support that KDE3 is getting from upstream. At one point, someone makes a shocking conclusion?

So realistically, KDE 3 devotees have to accept it’s going to disappear
unless someone does a fork, of which there is no sign,
& have to find alternatives, which seem to be available or almost.

YIKES! He said the F word! Is KDE really about to disappear? In 2008, Aaron Seigo wrote:

Meme 1: What is the future of 3.5?

This year, as with most years since KDE3 emerged, there have been huge deployments of KDE 3 based software. These deployments will not shift for years to come, no matter what KDE4 is. This is because large institutional deployments (government, corporate, educational, etc) typically have 3-7 year cycles (sometimes even longer) between major changes. Patches and security fixes? Sure. Major revamps? No. This alone ensures that KDE3 will remain supported for years. Why? Because there are users. That is how the open source dev model works: where there are users, there are developers; as one declines so does the other. The developers tend to be a step ahead of the users for software that is progressive, but you’ll also find that they have a foot in the here and now too (as well as the past, often).

KDE3 is still open in our svn so that bug fixes, security fixes, etc. can continue to be made. KDE 3.5.x is a rather solid desktop system and really doesn’t need a huge amount of work given what it is today; the work to move it to the next level is what we refer to as KDE4, of course. This means that the efforts needed to put into it aren’t huge to keep it viable. However, efforts that do go into it are welcome.

While the core KDE team will continue to concentrate our work on KDE4 since that is the long term direction of things, it is fully expected that our partners (which include some KDE core team members as employees/members) will continue supporting and even developing on KDE3 issues. The central project will also be around to lend a helping hand with advice and what not; I did that for a person the week before I left for holidays in December, actually, so it’s not wild hypothesis but solid theory.

For those familiar with the open source method, the above probably sounds .. well .. obvious. That’s because it is .. for those familiar with the open source method. We will find in this blog entry that many of the concerns people raise come from not acknowledging how Free(dom) software is created via the open source method.

Well, KDE3 still has a lot of users, probably more than XFCE (Just a guess), but all reports are that it’s not being maintained. so was Aaron only kidding?


The major problem of all of the above is that there’s no one in the KDE team
really using kde3 or its packages.

Hmm. I think that Aaron Seigo, who, incidentally, has generally been pretty decent in my encounters with him, didn’t anticipate the consequences of changes in the landscape, some of which he helped to bring about. As GNU/Linux becomes increasing accessible and useful to non-programmers, interest by users no automatically means interest by developers. It turns out that who the users are is pretty important.

Developer-users and non-developer-users have different needs and interests, and I think KDE4 has highlighted these differences like nothing else ever has. Developers are creative and curious, and they need to push things forward, and that’s noble and good. The work that is being done on KDE4 is, in my opinion, necessary and important, but one important reason why it’s necessary is because KDE3 could not be taken forward. In a limited, real-world way, it’s “perfect”. That’s a good reason to start a new project, but it’s a terrible reason to discard the work. The KDE team is, I'm presuming, mostly developers. So is every team controlling every distro.

I would like to be able to support the important and necessary work that is being done on KDE4 without losing KDE3 forever. Does that really mean a fork? Well, what is a fork?

I think the definition of a fork needs to be downsized a little. If we like what we have, and we just want to hold onto it, this should be such a huge endeavor. If a fork is nothing more than a KDE3 community taking responsibility for KDE3 remaining secure and viable, I say: hell yes. Okay, make that “maybe”, but a definite maybe. Hell, maybe!

Hey, I don’t really know anything about it, but I get the sense that rewriting KDE3 with QT4 is a pipe dream, a red herring, a fool’s errand, a mcguffin. (I have a few more, if you like.)We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to keep the tires inflated, and with a nice tread. Some people keep reminding us that QT3 is no longer supported by… oh, I forget, whoever it is that used to support it– but let’s remember that QT3 is free software, so no one entity gets to decide if qt3 is dead or alive. And what support is really needed? Some other large projects use qt3... okay, seriously, I only know of one, the opera browser. I'd be interested to see if it's a part of Opera 10.

The KDE team is, I'm presuming, mostly developers. So is every team controlling every distro. No one who is a developer is very much interested in KDE3, and that’s only natural. Indeed, the KDE team is tired of hearing about KDE3 and frankly, I can’t blame them. I’m pretty sure that if KDE3 is simply allowed to die out with a plurality of devoted users, they will NEVER hear the end of it.

Forking KDE could simply mean no longer looking to the KDE team to take care of our needs. It's not their KDE anymore it's ours, and if we're grownups, it makes it our responsibility. Since we’re light on developers, it may mean paying someone, in money, to take care of our needs. There I go, mentioning that other “F” word: funds. It may not come to that, but it is one option.

The fear from the team has been that forking KDE will divide the KDE community. Well, I think that’s a done deal. KDE has been forked, the community has been divided, and you did it. You had good reasons for doing it, no choice really. In a limited, simple way, KDE3 was pretty close to perfect. That means it would be a tragedy to let it die, but it also means that a bold new direction was pretty much required. Free software was invented so that programmers could be creative, and without that initiative, I’d be posting this blog through an Internet Explorer window. You developer guys are heroes, and let’s face it, if there was no KDE4, you would have probably broken KDE3 by now. A mathematician might argue that no one really made the decision to fork KDE, that it happened on its own, the way a fork in a river is formed.

So, am I really advocating a fork? Not yet, not exactly. I'm just bringing it up. Seriously, would it be so bad, KDE people? Would you miss the badgering and whining all that much? Would a slightly smaller kde community not be a worthwhile price to pay for a less fractious KDE community? Dozens?

I have no idea how many KDE refugees are out there (dozens?), but before we go building any forks, I think we need to build a community. We need to see what we have and how we can help each other, and maybe give the KDE4 people a little peace. They have their own reasons for their choices, and they are perfectly valid. Those of us who love KDE3 would be foolish to blame those who don't for failing to keep it going for us. It's on us. All of it.

Links: The Gentoo forum discusion:

Aaron Seigo’s blog