29 June, 2010

On Being Free pt 3

This is the second time I wrote this blog (wanted to publish before LinuxTag already) so I'll really try to keep it short. It is based on my talk on this subject at LinuxTag, which in turn was based on the earlier blogs about Being Free and discussions I had the night before the talk.

I'd like to refer to my earlier post where you can find links to earlier blogs.

Topics I'll go through:

  • Good and Bad sides of Being Free

  • 7 reasons why we're Free and What We Can Do

  • The Challenge

The Good and the Bad

So the way our community works as I described in my previous blogs has good and bad sides. Good is that we're the most innovative and fastest growing FOSS desktop community, having a lot of fun developing truly Free Software. But there is Bad. I've touched on that in my flameworthy LinuxTag blog (and I will come back to that topic in a future blog). The way we develop software is often bad news for the end user experience, and makes it hard to work with companies. We don't have a strong single point of contact for them.

So in pretty bullets:
  • Lots of fun

  • Much innovation

  • New volunteers & large growth

  • freedom

The bad
  • Too little focus on end user experience

  • Difficult cooperation with companies

7 Reasons & Actions

The question: can we improve our end user experience and work more closely with companies, while not losing the advantages of how we currently work? Let's move to the 7 reasons Why we're Free..

1. Strong focus on technology and cool things
We're a technically oriented community – in a discussion everybody is equal (assuming you're also willing to do the work). This is deeply embedded in how we in KDE think and work. This is something for our communication. Talk about this with each other. Every time you blog about a very cool thing you wrote or difficult problem you solved in an original way, you share our culture. So, blog! Even if it’s short!

2. Flat organization, little hierarchy
We don't really do 'bosses' and 'code monkeys' in KDE, and we shouldn't. New developers are coming in, paid to support come projects. They’re no different from us, so don’t treat them different!

3. Having a diverse ecosystem
Getting more companies with different business models involved in our community would be good. The increased interest in Qt thanks to Meego can help here, but we, as in the community and esp marketing people, should be working on this. And we are ;-)

We're pretty successful in reaching out to local contributors. I think we owe a great debt to some of our contributors who are very active in their local communities, getting people closer to the international community. But we need more reaching out - seen my series on who is KDE? Join that theme and bring outside contributions to the light!

This is something I'm working on behind the scenes, expect an announcement during Akademy.

4. The role of KDE e.V. is strictly supportive
The e.V. is our legal 'mother', supporting and protecting us in doing what we do. Officially, mommy has no say in what we do - in reality, most core contributors are a member of KDE e.V. and of course heavily influence development and the board sometimes does represent us to companies. However, that doesn't happen very often - the central role the Gnome Foundation plays is certainly not copied by KDE e.V. which has lost us (according to some ppl I spoke with) some potential important commercial contributions.

If a company asks the board: "We want to do this, will you accept the code which follows out of it?", and the board has to say "I dunno, ask $RandomBunchOfVolunteers", the company might go like "Yeah, right..." and move on.

So, should the board be more active in working with companies, approaching them, even? Personally, I think yes. But we should be very conscious of the risk of influence by the companies they work with. We're spending more and more money, the majority of which comes from big companies.

The Join the Game (supporting membership program helps make us less dependent on the big sponsors. A reason to join! Another thing is that we simply need to be aware of this issue and talk about it. Maybe we need to come up with some rules and agreements in this area.

5. Regular developer meetings - keep talking
The regular meetings our developers attend keep the community bonded together and increases cooperation with corporate contributors. So let's keep on doing this, the way we're doing it...

6. Meetings are funded by KDE e.V.
See 4 and 5. While I voiced some concerns, generally this is going great.

7. Having had to deal with Qt licensing - history helps
This reason for our 'being free' is very much a historical one, but one we can keep alive by talking about it and thus keeping it in our collective memory.


So in short, we should try and keep us free and independent by doing the following:

  • Be Nice

  • Reach out

  • Share and talk

Moreover, we should think about how we've organized some things. Maybe we can improve the way e.V. works? We are already working on getting community support through the Supporting Membership program; we might want to do more to diversify where our money comes from and give the e.V. more power in talking to companies.