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Debian 4.0 delayed, community issues

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UPDATE: In Luis Villa’s blog there is a good entry on the “bounty-problem“, i.e., the question if one gets less effort out of volunteers by paying them.

One empirical study concerns parents being late to fetch their children from day care. Installing a system of fines for being late made the situation worse. This is easy to understand: the fines change the logic from “being-a-parent” to “being-a-governed-subject”. The fine just gives a good excuse for being late; in the same way as a salary can give an excuse for not caring about the work (“I’m doing it for the money”). I think this applies to OS development, too, where monetary rewards change the logic, or “ethos”. The n what about the big boys, like Morton or Torvalds, who also get paid for doing what they do? My guess is that in those cases the logic doesn’t change, since they are so strongly following an internal logic, nevermind the circumstances.

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28.12. 2006:

Debian is famous for being one of the most freedom oriented, politically aware and volunteer-centered FOSS communities. Its longeivity and robustness are probably results of the well maintained community focus. Volunteers have been active because their freedom and the freedom of the code has been guaranteed. Now there are darker clouds on the horizon. Pressure for a predictable and steady release schedule has been growing, not least because of Ubuntu and because Debian is used in many commercial solutions and systems. This has led to ideas about monetary rerwards for main developers, which, in turn, have put off some of the volunteers. ZDNet Asia explains:

Barth and his fellow release manager, Steve Langasek, have been at the center of a controversy over the last few months, having accepted up to $6,000 of funding each for working full-time on Debian version 4, which is code-named Etch.

The funding for Barth and Langasek has been raised by an “experiment” called Dunc-Tank, which aims to speed the release of Etch.

But the establishment of the group may have backfired, as it has angered many unpaid developers. They argue that Dunc-Tank is turning Debian into a two-class system, which could have a negative effect on the distribution. Some have called for the resignation of the two release managers.

It is claimed that developers have simply started working on something else after being offended by this “two-class” system:

A group of 17 developers, led by well-known Debian maintainer Joerg Jaspert, issued a position statement in October citing its disenchantment with Dunc-Tank. It read, “This whole affair already hurts Debian more than it can ever achieve. It already made a lot of people who have contributed a huge amount of time and work to Debian reduce their work. People left the project, others are orphaning packages…system administration and security work is reduced, and a lot of otherwise silent maintainers simply put off Debian work (to) work on something else.”

I see the phenomenon in terms of two different kinds of work ethics: volunteer and salary-based (or, to use more lofty language, hacker ethics and protestant ethics). The two do not mix well. Motivated-by-money development easily has goals different from those motivated by the ideology of software freedom. Some of the problems are mentioned here. On the other hand, there should be ways of financially assisting valuable projects like Debian. Many open source projects mix paid workers and unpaid voluntees succesfully. Maybe the problem lies, again, in that Debian is not only an open source project, but a free software project. Differences in motivational basis lead to differences in community structure, or at least lead to presuppositions and perceived differences.

One Comment

  1. Juha wrote:

    Open source und Open Web (saati Web 2.0) my ass, mikäli on uskominen militaaria edustavien äänenepainoja. Johtamisjärjestelmätekniikan (vau!) professori Jorma Jormakka Maanpuolustuskorkeakoululta antaa palaa artikkelissaan Miksi emme näe enemmän tietoverkkosotaa: “Peruskysymys on, tuleeko globaalissa verkossa sallia, että loppukäyttäjä lähettää mielivaltaista dataa mielivaltaiseen osoitteeseen, vaiko ainoastaan se, että loppukäyttäjä voi käyttää rajoitettua joukkoa hyvin ymmärrettyjä palveluita”. Pitkään aikaan en ole lukenut yhtä vieraantunutta ja yhtä teknokraattista tekstiä, jossa teknologinen maailmannäkemys on ottanut vallan yli sosiaalisesta, poliittisesta ja kulttuurisesta katsannosta.

    Friday, January 5, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

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