I have some advice for you, if you’re thinking about spearheading an open source project: Define your goal at the outset, and never ever allow the public to determine which way your project goes.
That way you can avoid the ridiculous double-take that plagued Ubuntu Netbook Remix (or is it Edition?) a little while ago. Quite clearly, if the designing minds behind UNR/E had laid down the law at the outset, they could have sidestepped the embarrassment of making a suggestion and having it thrown back by the mob.
Mob rule is simply unacceptable. What was needed was a voice from on high, saying clearly and distinctly, “There will be no OpenOffice.org by default in our distro. If you disagree, install it. Or find a project that suits you better.” Tell the people what they need to hear: You can’t have it your way. I am in charge. If you don’t like it, fork it. End of story.
It worked for Exherbo. Almost two years ago they suffered any amount of denigration for insinuating that their interest in your contributions to their project was cursory at best. People called them rude, uninviting, snide, communist and even newbie-unfriendly.
But you know what? Last time I checked, they were still in business, and I doubt anyone has ever tried to tell them how to run their show. Have you ever seen a “mockup” of an Exherbo desktop? I didn’t think so. And why is that? Probably because of an authoritarian management style, from the outset. Brilliant.
It might sound self-congratuatory, but my own brief foray into the world of distro management was likewise without public interference. Granted, globbing together an ugly GTK1.2 version of Ubuntu hardly sets me on a shelf with the ranking evil geniuses of all time. But how many suggestions do you think I have received in the two-plus years that creepy little ISO has been floating around the ‘net? None. Not a one.
And why? Because from the start I said, “I did this for me. I didn’t do it for you. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. You can make suggestions if you must, but don’t bother me with complaints about default colors or Firefox. Use it or fork it.” No requests for comment. No brainstorm sites. No voting up or down on user-submitted points of “controversy.”
It worked. No one ever made a “mockup” or complained about the color scheme or insisted that I install OpenOffice.org by default. Of course that ISO ranks in the bottom 0.1 percent of all distros ever released throughout human history, but popularity was never my goal. So I got what I deserved.
Come to think of it, a dictatorial style might have been what saved Xubuntu, all those years ago. If someone had said, in no uncertain terms, that Xubuntu would be styled as an XFCE desktop with only GTK2 applications, it might have gone that direction instead of plumping out into a pretend lightweight distro with Gnome bursting out of every seam.
Who’s to say? There was, a very very long time ago, a manifesto somewhere in the Ubuntu wiki that set out those same terms for Xubuntu. I used to have a link to it, but last time I looked the page was dead. And of course, mob rule crept into that project too, and steered it away from its original plan.
Look, I’m all for brotherhood, helping out the new guy, group hugs and the need to sit down with a box of tissues every few years and watch “Titanic.” But starting an open source project is not that time. Allowing the public to steer the project is insane. No good can come of it. Tell the people from the start: This is what we will do. Do it with us, or do it on your own.