Project Timelord, or How Not To Build A Project

As the latest versions of the Ubuntu family came out at the end of October, you could hear certain grumblings, particularly as regards the KDE version, Kubuntu. This was not a new issue, really. For the last few years there has been controversy and accusations about how Canonical has supported Kubuntu. For instance, Aaron Seigo of the KDE project gave an interview to Computerworld (Feb. 1, 2008) where he seemed to slam Canonical:

Canonical did not communicate well about long-term support and therefore neglected 35 percent of their user base. A user base they routinely neglect, but at KDE we ignore a lot of this.

OK, this is not something you want to read if you are a Canonical representative, and Jono Bacon certainly did not like it. He put up a response in his blog (Feb. 1, 2008), which I will not quote here since there is no short piece that works. He basically lists all of the things that Canonical does to support Kubuntu and KDE. Now, since I have not personally met either gentleman, let me just say that they both seem like nice enough fellows, but there is definitely a difference of viewpoint here.

I know my own experience with Kubuntu upgrades has not been especially gratifying, and I have at times thought that just possibly less care went into Kubuntu releases than went into the main Gnome version. But I am only an observer. Still, I saw what looked like an increase in complaints around the time of the Karmic release. On Oct. 9, 2009, a blog post by Jonathan Thomas (Jontheechidna) titled Kubuntu, the Blue-headed Stepchild detailed what he called a pattern of neglect. His argument was that while Canonical certainly does devote resources to Kubuntu and KDE, they don’t show anything like the same care. His examples seemed to suggest that Canonical would make changes to the code base, test in the Gnome-based Ubuntu, then move it into production without caring that it might break KDE and Kubuntu. The fellow who claims to have been placed “forever in the grasps of hell” for coining the term “blue-headed stepchild”, Richard Johnson, has a blog post that mostly claims there has been no real difference in care or in result between the Gnome and KDE versions of Ubuntu. I have (barely) met Richard, but we are not exactly bosom buddies. Still, he seems like a nice enough fellow as well.

Well, I think we can now say with some justification that there was enough smoke to indicate at least some smouldering, if not a blazing fire. The Kubuntu developers have announced Project Timelord, an attempt to overhaul Kubuntu and take care of some of the problems that have occurred. Here is the introductory paragraph to the announcement:

Through intense self-reflection, it has come to the attention of several Kubuntu developers that Kubuntu is not currently reaching its full potential. Whether due to major architectural changes in the software stack, the usage of certain Ubuntu technologies or limited developer time, we have realized that deep changes must occur. In order to fix this situation will do all in our power to make sure Kubuntu stands the test of time.

OK, not exactly the most stirring call to arms, but it is a start. Unfortunately, while they welcome involvement from a wide range of people, their idea of how to do this is to publish a page that lists all of the general Kubuntu mailing lists. Now, I have not yet purchased Jono Bacon’s book on The Art of Community, but I would hope for his sake that the book has better methods of building a community than this. It looks to me like they are saying “If you are super-motivated and can figure out a way to get through to us, maybe we can find something for you to do.” I am disappointed here. I do actually know one fellow at Canonical (Jorge Castro, who not only seems like a nice enough fellow, but really is a very nice fellow and quite devoted to the Ubuntu community), and I asked him to find out more about Project Timelord, like maybe a contact person, and so far nothing. I have asked people in our Michigan Lo-Co if anyone knew about it, and no one did. There did seem to be some interest in getting involved should anyone ever figure out how. I even had one fellow from my LUG ask to be kept informed because he would like to get involved. Now, I am not a developer. for which you should all be extremely grateful. I am a Project Manager by profession, I have previously worked in politics (largely volunteer-driven) and I have successfully led several non-profit organizations that depended on volunteer activity for their survival, and I am fairly certain that this is not-how-you-do-it. Volunteers can accomplish a great deal, but they need to be motivated and led, and I don’t at this point see much evidence of either from Project Timelord. Maybe it is too early, and all of this will happen in due course. If it does, and you hear anything, would you let me know? I am still kinda interested in getting involved.

1 comment

  1. Howdy, this is Richard Johnson by the way, and I was wondering if we have ever met, becuase you said “barely” and that we weren’t bosom buddies. I would like to be a buddy for sure 🙂 As for your article here, I absolutely agree with you, and you are right, it is still a bit early in the project timelord stuff, but hopefully we will all be able to come together after the holidays and start working on the project a bit deeper. I have met so many people in the Michigan LoCo and LUGs, so if we have met, I do apologize for not remembering, and hopefully it was a sober moment if and when we did meet 🙂

    If you are on IRC, please feel free to ping me, or email me directly, nixternal ubuntu com. Thanks!

Comments have been disabled.