There’s one other issue that seems to be a problem that users are talking about on the forums, and that’s a lack of transparency. I guess the belief is that everything is secret and since there’s little to no communication of what’s going on with the outside world, that developers therefore don’t really care about the users interest’s at all … or something like that. On the contrary, I believe that there is a great willingness to be transparent, but there is actual little amount of it simply because no one is tapping it.
For the most part, I think if you asked any developer or team what it is they are working on, what their plans are for the future, and what they’d like to see, that they will tell you. I know I’m more than willing to do a braindump on anyone who comes by asking questions on projects I’m poking at. Just because the information isn’t being voluntarily organized and presented doesn’t mean that they are withholding information — it just means that nobody is doing the organization and asking. So here you have two groups — people working on stuff and people wanting to know what’s being worked on — but no middle man to communicate from one to the other. The reasons for that, I think, are simple. One, it’s hard work, and two, it’s boring.
The newsletter is a good example to examine, though to be honest I don’t know much about the process that goes into providing one. I do know that having one on a regular basis has really raised the standard of living for users, and I also know that it’s a lot of hard work putting it together. I have on ocassion written articles for it, which is fun at first, but gets tiresome really fast. Maintaining the status quo is never simple. Even keeping a tree full of stable ebuilds for an architecture is an incredible amount of work, and it doesn’t always fall into the “this is fun” category. The reality is, someone is giving of their time voluntarily to do a lot of work to keep people’s boxes up to date or to keep the documentation nice and clean or whatever the task may be.
One thing that I think is a misconception as well is that there is always this mysterious group of people behind the scenes who are all working together to magically make this happen. As sad as it is, the reality is quite different — more often than not, it is just *one* person working on an entire project to see it through from start to finish. Generally speaking, you’ll have people contribute small amounts here and there, but for the most part, it’s always going to be one person doing a lot of the brunt work.
That’s why we need volunteers. The spirit is always willing, but the flesh is also always weak. I’m hoping to bridge that gap a little bit by writing up some ideas that will hopefully lower the entry barrier of how to help, and who to talk to about what, but that’s not going to change the fact that people need to get involved if they want to see things done right. Lack of manpower probably always has been and probably always will be the most critical element to deciding how sustainable and reliable a community project will be. There’s just a lot of stuff that requires maintenance that isn’t glamorous, but still needs to be done.
Anyway, I’m rambling again, I just was hoping to clear up some misconceptions. My main point though, is to get involved somehow. I know it’s a little difficult to find out how, and can be confusing at first, but I would suggest persistence. If you don’t get any answers the first time around, then try asking somewhere else or someone different. I’ll offer myself again as a personal guide to anyone who wants to get started helping out on Gentoo, but doesn’t know where to start.
I also don’t want to make things sound glum, and I realize this post was a partial rant, but I think it helps to realize the situations at hand. A lot of stuff simply doesn’t get done unless someone who is interested in seeing it done steps up themselves and sees to it, or helps it along. If you have a great idea of how Gentoo could improve, then run with it. Setup an overlay. Write some documentation. Become a developer. Get a blog. Submit a patch. Help out on the forums. Hang out on IRC. As cliched as it is, it really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something.
I still think Gentoo is a great little distro, and I’m really positive in the direction things are heading. I don’t know how useful, entertaining or interesting my take is on the whole thing, but I’ll try to do a little bit of a better job to be more transparent myself and post more regularly what it is I’m working on within Gentoo. For the record, right now I’m fixing some bugs in GPNL so I can add some stuff onto it. I don’t want to go into details right now since it’s still a work in progress (and I’m not sure how feasible it is), but I think it will help by gathering some user statistics.
Sorry for the dramatic, sad tone to this whole post — this is why I don’t like writing these things. I really do think the future looks good, though. There’s some cool stuff on the horizon, and I think Gentoo is just going through some growing pains. I’m confident that it’ll all work out in the end. :)