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Shuttleworth on Open Source Development 162

An anonymous reader writes "Mark Shuttleworth (retired cosmonaut and Ubuntu daddy) has written an informative blog entry about the problems associated with open source development. He found that paying geeks to code without assigning them managers lead to "shiny geek toys", rather than the product he was actually paying for. Shuttleworth says that left-field thinking is required when it comes to managing open source teams. See also Andrew Orlowski's analysis of why AOL eventually killed the Netscape project from a few years ago, where he describes Mozilla developers as "wandering off into Lotus-eating land"."
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Shuttleworth on Open Source Development

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  • Exactly... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raydobbs ( 99133 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:14PM (#14716412) Homepage Journal
    You can have all the creativity you want - but without proper leadership, all that effort and talent goes wasted. I have a few creative friends that have all these wonderful ideas - but they have no idea on the concepts of project planning or management of resources. Needless to say, their killer applications are still brain children - and not actually out here where the rest of us can use them.
    • Re:Exactly... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Stoned4Life ( 926494 )
      I think what is, not so much overlooked, but not always considered when thinking of Open Source projects, is that these developers are not working on this Full-Time (usually). This is a project divided among a group who all either share an interest in the resultant, or were brought together to contribute their knowledge in certain fields. It is unlikely that they would have previously held management positions or have acted as project leaders- not to just to govern themselves, but to hold a leadership over
      • Mark Shuttleworth is subsidizing the Kubuntu team is working on a software installer named Adept. I find this to be rather wasteful, since there is already an extremely feature-rich, robust and mature installer from SUSE named YAST [debian.org]. YAST is Free and Open Source (GPL) and it is built on the Qt/KDE framework and integrated in the KDE Control Center [kde.org], so it would fit very nicely in the Kubuntu environment.

        YaST is the app that makes the proverbial "Linux on the Desktop" a reality. It is the most robust, comprehe
    • by dasil003 ( 907363 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:35PM (#14716608) Homepage
      I'm not sure exactly how it went down, but it sounds like he hired a bunch of developers for a project and just sent them off to go do it without leadership. This isn't a problem with open source, it's just a boneheaded decision. When you hire someone you have to train them and tell them what you expect. It's no wonder that they gravitated towards whatever they wanted to do since they had no direction.

      You can have all the creativity you want - but without proper leadership, all that effort and talent goes wasted. I have a few creative friends that have all these wonderful ideas - but they have no idea on the concepts of project planning or management of resources. Needless to say, their killer applications are still brain children - and not actually out here where the rest of us can use them.

      In that case self-management is the key. I've been there. Working for years in an educational environment where the actual workload was less than 20 hours, I had a lot of freedom to take things in new directions. I ended up coming up with some of my best ideas and was able to develop the discipline to implement them. But it was really hard not to get distracted. You have to develop a manager mentality--be results oriented. As a programmer / designer / creative, sometimes spending 8 hours just researching or learning something is well worth it, but at some point you have to jump in and focus hard on the final product until its done. Then you can go back into creative mode and dream up version 2.0.
      • Part of what makes Linux and GPL'd software so nifty is that with access to the source code one can do all sorts of wonderful and unexpected things. Port wondershape to the wrt54g. Replace svgalib with aalib and seamlessly render images and video streams as ascii art. Fit linux onto all sorts of silly places, including a windows device driver [colinux.org]. Tune the linux scheduler parameters using adaptive genetic algorithms [kerneltrap.org]. Cook up packages for compiz before the distro puts it into stable. The ability to think outsid
    • Re:Exactly... (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Every project (free or non) needs project management. Whether
      it is a screaming idiot standing around keeping things in
      line, or a strategic documented list of direction and goals
      which are adhered-to, it is a must.

      If the project lacks direction, you get what you get. No
      sympathy here. I've written a lot of OS/2 apps in the
      past and learned quickly how misdirection occurs without
      documented direction. This isn't limited to Open Source.

      At my current employer, we've hired project consulting firms
      to complete syste
    • Re:Exactly... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eno2001 ( 527078 )
      The problem with "leaders" is in how much they actually understand what's going on. Typically the people with strong leadership skills are totally clueless when it comes to understanding what is technically realistic. You've got people out there who are strong leaders but actually believe that if they wanted to have flying minibots all over the place that use anti-grav drives for security services, that it's possible. Hate to break it to them, but it's NOT possible. That's the typical leader with strong
      • Re:Exactly... (Score:2, Insightful)

        I think one of the reasons that technical people make such poor managers is due to inflexible thinking in many corporate environments. In every place that I've worked, I've seen managers that were quite good at managing projects (in terms of getting the people they manage to do great work that meets or exceeds expectations), but invariably that management position comes along with expanding amounts of corporate middle management stuff (reviews, HR, tracking employee hours, days off, etc., etc.) which such

      • I think it comes down to understanding the unstated requirements and assumptions and being able to communicate those to everyone.

        If you can get past that, then management is very simple.

        The *business* has a goal of shipping product X on date Y to make profit Z.
        Unstated is the requirement that it doesn't have to be perfect. Just "good enough". And, exactly, what "good enough" means in this situation.

        I can ship any product on any deadline provided that there are only 2 requirements:
        #1. It doesn't have to work
      • Good leaders who understand the limitations of technology exist, The problem is getting geeks to find legitimacy in a manager who is not a geek too. In a nutshell: forget it.
        • I've only know one person who was a director at a previous job who actually "got" technology. If he'd had less desire for power, he probably could have been a tech. But this kind of person is VERY rare.
    • It's not only about creativity. You need someone who always keeps the big picture in mind. I've worked on projects where those involved get caught up in one part of the application, and get consumed by it to the detriment of the whole.

      I think though that this shouldn't be seen as a condemnation of OSS, but rather as a reminder to have a clear direction and follow it. Of course, that should be a given in any project, albeit rarely a reality.

    • > You can have all the creativity you want - but without proper leadership, all
      > that effort and talent goes wasted.

      Is it leadership or direction that's needed? Leader implies a hierarchial management structure and differentiated skill sets. But can you achieve results with the (rarer) self-directed, self-disciplined people? Is it the leader that's missing, or the discipline and vision a leader often provides?

      > I have a few creative friends that have all these wonderful ideas - but they
      > have no
      • Leasdership is needed!

        In every project, no matter what it is, whether it's open source or sending a space probe to Pluto. There will always be decisions to make that is not going to be in favor of every person on the team. Sometimes you have to cut down, cut away, change and sometimes that process can be painful. Without someone who has the final word, anarchy and a "new geeky shiny thing" is the result.
        • > Leadership is needed!

          Why?

          > In every project, no matter what it is, whether it's open source or sending
          > a space probe to Pluto. There will always be decisions to make that is not
          > going to be in favor of every person on the team.

          That explains why absolutely unanimous decisions are impossible. So, we have identified one system that doesn't work; why do we need -one- leader?

          Why not one-man-one-vote? Why not voting by proxy shares, given out for lines of code contributed? Why not polling the user
          • Leadership emerges naturally in any group of people for the simple reason that it is in our nature. The best is to formalize the role of dealer in order to avoid the wasteful bickering that will ensue a situation in which the leader is not clearly defined.

            We are primates, never ever forget that, we always look to find the most suitable leader for any situation and immediately start to plot his demise. We need a silverback to protect us and to make the group of monkeys homogeneous, but we hate the silver ba
            • > Leadership emerges naturally in any group of people for the simple reason
              > that it is in our nature.

              It is also the nature of man to constantly strive to alter his nature.

              > All this one vote rubish and all the other mumbo jumbo you mention is
              > against the nature of small groups of people,

              Actually, I wasn't lauding the holy nature of one-man-one-vote. I was simply pointing out that the forms under which we choose to organize can be a conscious decision. I'm not particularly enamored of voting.
          • I see you have never had a job.
    • I don't think it's necessarily a problem of leadership, or vision, or management. You just have to be able to specify what you want, and for that, you have to know what you want, and what you don't care about. Programmers are generally very capable, as long as the task is well defined. Just specify what parts of the finished work are critical, and what parts have leeway: "For this aspect, I don't care how you implement it, as long it does this, this and this." And then check periodically to make sure th
    • You can have all the creativity you want - but without proper leadership, all that effort and talent goes wasted.

      That's total BS. Shuttleworth's developers were doing exactly the right thing--according to their own objectives. They needed to get marketable technologies and software skills onto their resumes and they wanted to be on a big project, so they developed a complex, reusable, cross-platform Java solution.

      These people didn't need better leadership, they needed the right kinds of incentives. Incen
  • Old article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Proud like a god ( 656928 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:16PM (#14716442) Homepage
    From the article:

    This entry was posted on Friday, November 21st, 2003 at 6:48 pm...

    A little out of touch maybe?
    • A tad bit old, yes. The Registry article equally so. Is this blast from the past Tuesday here on /.? If so, might I request an article or two on Deborah Harry of Blondie fame? Circa 1982? I've been thinking about her all day long. Just make something up about guitar technology or somethiing to CYA on a tech news site afterall. And please include pics of Deborah and the guitar, or just Deborah. You decide.
    • by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @01:21PM (#14717035) Journal
      From the article:
      This entry was posted on Friday, November 21st, 2003 at 6:48 pm...
      A little out of touch maybe?


      No, no, it just took that long to be signed off by all the department heads and then approved by upper management.
    • It was an interesting article and well worth reading. But the fact that this is 3 years old is relevant in my opinion. I'm a little put off by the fact that this wasn't noted in the excerpt for the headline. Submitting this and passing it off as current news for the sake of making a point is bad form. This particular blog isn't new at all and so you know that someone didn't submit this just because they found it for the first time today and thought it was valid. Its a lot more likey that someone wanted
  • by knarph ( 91616 ) <knarph@fuckallya[ ]com ['ll.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:18PM (#14716451) Homepage
    that shiny geek toys are all that bad. I can't think of one thing that my grandmother (who is as far from a geek as one can get) uses every day that wasn't once a shiny geek toy to someone.
    • /*I can't think of one thing that my grandmother (who is as far from a geek as one can get) uses every day that wasn't once a shiny geek toy to someone.*/

      Yes, but the reason that its still not a "shiny geek toy", but is a grandmother-friendly tool is that someone went to the trouble of putting a proper user interface on it and testing for widespread (read: real-world) application. The article just restates a problem that many others have seen with open-source projects: the geeks create all sort of shi
      • by knarph ( 91616 )
        Sure enough, but if the geek toys were never made, she'd still be using the same crap that was around when she was born, but with a better interface. I'm sure putting a new UI on a steam engine would do it some good, but only to a point.
        • /*I'm sure putting a new UI on a steam engine would do it some good, but only to a point.*/

          I agree that there needs to be a combination of new technology and user interface design. What Shuttleworth, like many others, is pointing out is that open-source development tends to produce an abundance of geek toys, but not necessarily an abundance of adequate user interfaces. It just seems to be a new take on the old "Linux won't ever popular unless a corporation gets behind it and does some UI work...
        • putting a new UI on a steam engine would do it some good, but only to a point.

          Valve did that and it seemed to work out just fine for them

          /ducks

      • >The article just restates a problem that many others have seen with open-source projects: the geeks create all sort of shiny toys and efficient frameworks, but nobody actually bothers to test it for ease-of-use, or put a decent user-interface on top.

        Actually, I see the problem in this case (and several others) as not so much that, as it is that if you leave geeks to their own devices, they'll work on what they want, never mind what they're supposed to. I've been guilty of this on occasion, as I'm s

    • I can't think of one thing that my grandmother [...] uses every day that wasn't once a shiny geek toy to someone.

      Your statement is so confident that I'm sure you have put a lot of thought into this (or you just don't have much of an imagination). I'm not arguing this way or that, but I think this is really thought provoking.

      What are your favourite Shiny Geek Toys of the Past that your grandmother uses? What is Teh Ultimate Shiny Geek Toy of the Past? Could it be the wheel? Or a hammer? Toilet must be

    • Is he just bitching for no reason, or has he come up with some new geek toy to solve this problem?
  • Mozilla - ouch. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <spydermann.slashdot@ g m ail.com> on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:18PM (#14716462) Homepage Journal
    I can relate to that comment, I've been waiting for Mozilla to implement Internet Explorer compatibility (XSLT extensions) and ACID2 compliance for a while. Even with the 10% market share Firefox enjoys, they still don't facilitate the programmers to replace existing IE applications.

    I also agree with this:
    Creating a neat C++ framework when what the world really needs a non-Microsoft browser is nothing but a deriliction of duty: a piece of vanity code. What we Brits call pointless "willy waving".


    I really hated Internet Explorer. When I heard about Mozilla, I tried Milestone 8 (around 1999), and it was slow as a snail on my poor machine. WTF were they thinking? The Netscape code might have been difficult to maintain, but what really needed a revamp was the html renderer.

    The reason Firefox did get a huge market share is not because of the XUL framework, but because it was finished. I'm sure all that delay could've been avoided.
    • When I heard about Mozilla, I tried Milestone 8 (around 1999), and it was slow as a snail on my poor machine. WTF were they thinking? The Netscape code might have been difficult to maintain, but what really needed a revamp was the html renderer.

      The reason Firefox did get a huge market share is not because of the XUL framework, but because it was finished. I'm sure all that delay could've been avoided.


      Except that the main reason that Mozilla was so slow was because the XPCOM/XUL, not gecko. And improving tha
    • The revamp was very hard to do. The problems were deep. The team decided that a complete rewrite was the cheapest option for fixing things. They were correct in this. The problem is that customer bases don't hang out for years. Further Mozilla had features targetted at powerusers while AOL is targetted at low skill users.

      BTW the first major project was Gekko the HTML renderer.
  • I think his project ultimately would have been successful if he'd started with a strong architectural design. Get the documentation out there first and get the developers coding to it, rather than to some nebulous desire for a GUI tool. An architect would also have made a GUI decision, either picking XUL or some other framework, or he certainly could have designed his own. But to let the programmers run without focus was simply asking for what he got.
    • I think his project ultimately would have been successful if he'd started with a strong architectural design.

      Strong architectural design definitely helps. However, it's not the be-all-to-end-all. In OSS development you have to be aware that your programmers are volunteers. They can and WILL step out the door at inopportune times, start arguements over architectural designs, and spend time working on what they think is cool rather than what is needed.

      To get a project to absorb much of this chaos, you can do
      • Well, I was thinking an architectural diagram might have helped keep focus where it was needed. Yes, it does all come down to leadership. A developer with free rein will "write once, run everywhere else." But a solid architecture might have served as a "touchstone" of leadership for his team, even if he couldn't be there to personally supervise the day-to-day coding.
      • 2. Hire programmers who you can tell what to do (and fire if they don't) to get a core going.

        That's what he did: he hired them, told them to produce his app which would be open-sourced, they failed to do so, and he fired them. As others have alluded to, he hired a group or (presumably) talented coders, but found that they were unable or unmotivated to organize themselves into a project development team.

        Personally, I find the more interesting portion of the story to be what happened next: he wanted to ke

    • I agree.

      I know there's a bit of a bias here on Slashdot -- and among developers in general, IMO -- against "manager types" and non-programmer software people (e.g., Analysts, Testers, Documentation Writers, etc.) but I think that one of the weaknesses of a lot of OSS projects is that they're full of nothing but coders, and very few 'ancillary people.'

      I'm sure that makes for lots of code, but I'm not sure that it leads to the best final product. There's a reason why analysts and testers exist on commercial s
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:24PM (#14716509) Journal
    He found that paying geeks to code without assigning them managers lead to "shiny geek toys", rather than the product he was actually paying for.

    Do ya think? How long did it take him to reach that conclusion?

    Seriously folks, this is a given and one of the main reasons I don't buy into all the hype about the electronic toy du jour. Everytime I see an article somewhere which says that 'X' is the latest electronic whiz toy that everyone must have I just roll my eyes and move along. (As a side note to marketers, I don't watch your commercials or read your flyers in the paper. You may now explode with unmitigated rage because I'm stealing from you for not watching what you produce.)

    I don't want to be forced to buy a DVD player which plays DVDs, mpegs, connects to the net, calls my vet or offers me advice on what wine goes well with acadian rigatoni. I want the machine to play DVDs. Period.

    By their very nature geeks (true geeks) will shovel every bell and whistle into a device they can get away with because that is what they do. They want to see how much cruft they can tack onto the hardware simply to see if it can be done. Top that off with manuals (the paper ones if you're lucky enough to get one) which are so poorly written and obtuse that the average user has to take lessons to learn how to program their device, and the market becomes filled with devices whose half-life is as long as the life of a fruit fly.

    To all who produce this crap, here's a hint: Stop making a swiss army knife out of every product. If you absolutely must put tinsel on the tree, make three trees. The first is bare bones (i.e. just a cell phone. no music, games, etc). The second has a few more items (include games and music). The third has everything (bleeding edge). If you check your sales figures you'll be surprised to learn which one sells the best (hint: it's not number three).

    • by DiSKiLLeR ( 17651 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:37PM (#14716627) Homepage Journal
      If you check your sales figures you'll be surprised to learn which one sells the best (hint: it's not number three).>

      Actually, I think, you will be quite surprised to find out that it actually IS number three.
    • He found that paying geeks to code without assigning them managers lead to "shiny geek toys", rather than the product he was actually paying for.

      Do ya think? How long did it take him to reach that conclusion?

      Well, according to the date on the article, he had reached this conclusion and spoke out about it in 2003... Ubuntu has sure come a long way since 2003. Do you think he might have learned the lesson? :-)

    • The rest of the world doesn't agree with you though. People do want an dvd player that also plays their vcd's, audio cds, mp3 cds, and so on. I want the convience of a single player that can play anything I throw at it.
      Look at mobile phones. Integrating a camera into the phone was a massive hit. People want integrated toys.
    • By their very nature geeks (true geeks) will shovel every bell and whistle into a device they can get away with because that is what they do.

      Only if that device is not a true Device.

      A true Device does one thing and does that one thing well; it has clearly defined inputs and does not mind what the input comes from, and it has clearly defined outputs and does not mind what the output goes to.

      Then the Geek is happy, for with many such Devices and an assortment of cables the Geek can assemble a composite

    • by Ed Avis ( 5917 )

      By their very nature geeks (true geeks) will shovel every bell and whistle into a device they can get away with because that is what they do.

      The true geek will make it as minimal as possible, stripping out features until you get down to a barebones command line interface. (That's not what grandma wants either.)

      It is often marketing departments who are responsible for your DVD player offering you 'premium' or 'sponsored' content recommending particular wines.


    • By their very nature geeks (true geeks) will shovel every bell and whistle into a device they can get away with because that is what they do.


      I guess I'm not a "true geek" then. There's definitely a set of people that will do just that. There's also a very large amount of people that follow the mantra "Keep it simple, stupid". You really don't need to look much farther than all the extremely successfull open source software projects to know that what you're saying simply isn't true. Is Linus Torvalds not
    • To amplify your thoughts -- the most successful FOSS projects have one thing in common: a strong leader in the form of a 'benevolent dictator' (Linux's Linus Torvald and Python's Guido van Rossum come to mind), or a team that serves the same purpose (Netscape's Mozilla team and Debian's technical commitee for example).

      So the most successful projects have hac4ers on the back-end driving change, with a filter on the front-end controlling what gets into the releases after careful consideration over time. Idea
    • Business school 101:

      Make a quality, enduring product that exactly fits the customers needs, and you'll never sell to that customer again. Crappy products make for a successful business, because crappy products keep you in contact with the customer.

      Didn't you ever wonder why Microsoft rules the software world? There products have never been so poor that consumers abandon them...always just crappy enough that the users need to keep returning for the fix.
    • "If you check your sales figures you'll be surprised to learn which one sells the best (hint: it's not number three)."

      Well, I hate to break the news to you, but I worked at an electronics store when I was in college. I handled the product on a daily basis with customers, read the reports on a weekly basis and did inventory on a quarterly basis for years. Part of it was evaluating what sold and what didn't so management could pick and choose the new product mix to order (you get that job if you are the "comp
    • By their very nature geeks (true geeks) will shovel every bell and whistle into a device they can get away with because that is what they do.

      That's only the yang of geek.

      There are plenty of geeks out there refining their yin [sysinternals.com].
    • To all who produce this crap, here's a hint: Stop making a swiss army knife out of every product. If you absolutely must put tinsel on the tree, make three trees. The first is bare bones (i.e. just a cell phone. no music, games, etc). The second has a few more items (include games and music). The third has everything (bleeding edge). If you check your sales figures you'll be surprised to learn which one sells the best (hint: it's not number three).

      If you ever start a company, remind me to sell your stock sh
  • "It seemed as if, given free reign, the developers pursued their own personal interests rather than the goals of the project." [...]
    "So I canned the project and shutdown the development office, letting the developers go."

    For Pete's sake, don't anyone let my boss see that !! O.O

  • by herve_masson ( 104332 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:27PM (#14716541)
    I agree with most of what he said, except I don't think its limited to open source projects. I have seen that on purely commercial context as well. The problem is that you *need* some kind of "geek toys" occasionnally, because they sometimes give birth to a very valuable technology (I've seen that many times). That's a complex task to find the fair balance between what is reasonable/valuable and what is not in term of focus diversion, and that's a hell of a management task to deal with people who can't see that balance (either way).
  • Why blame OSS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ameoba ( 173803 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:27PM (#14716543)
    It sounds like he hired a team of talented but flakey developers and is generalizing this to all OSS development. I don't think the problem has anything to do with OSS - it has to do with a team of guys thinking they have free reign to do what they want with no expectations, deadlines or oversight.
    • My thoughts exactly. He seems to think that just because there's a "need to ship" that automatically leads to a quality product. Anyone remember the terrible, long delayed game Daikatana? There's a commercial product that eventually "shipped" but it sucked rocks and lost a lot of money.

      This guy obviously hasn't been involved in many commercial software projects. Anytime there's bad leadership, odds are the product is going to fail. It doesn't matter if it's traditional commercial software, commercialy
  • Olde news? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Ok. For those that didn't realize it, that blog entry was from 2003. Today, three years later on, where is the SchoolTool project? Did Mark really learn a lesson and develop a solution or did he just relive a trend he noticed so long ago?

    Seems to be a long development cycle for a specialized calendar. [schooltool.org] I'm glad I'm not paying for it.
  • As far as I could see, very little in the way of specification, design / architecting.
    Without a reasonable framework it was inevitable the project collapsed.

    The actual coding should be a minor part of a project, the real blood, sweat and tears is the spec and the architecting / design (and usability / test side of things): If that is done well enough then the coding should be a simple join the dots task.

    Without architecture / design constraints then you will get toys for the boys (and girls) as there is no
    • Oh god, not another big up front design fan. You don't need in depth design documents, you simply need developers who have been properly briefed about what the project is, and have proper oversight. I run a development shop, and I've got guys who can pretty much manage themselves once given a task. They have great lattitude in how they get the job done, but they work on what they are given, not on their pet project.

      This guy didn't really put the vision across, and didn't have a user in the process. Where we
  • But it's often these oddball programmer projects that end up being the next big thing. Manage your coders but don't stiffle them. I think that's the real secret to Google's success and it can be yours too. Steer them towards finishing your projects and finishing their own projects.
  • XUL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Britz ( 170620 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:48PM (#14716733)
    I always kept wondering what exactly XUL was developed for when a browser was needed. I don't know the timeline, but wasn't Gtk ready about the time they started Mozilla? I know that Qt was for a long time worthless for cross platform free stuff, because Trolltech charged money for the win32 version (which they had every right to do so).
  • Schooltool link (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BeardsmoreA ( 951706 )
    In case people are too lazy to spend 3 seconds on google... (Which from some comments above seems to be the case)

    http://www.schooltool.org/ [schooltool.org]

    Summary of current status as I read it: SchoolTool still isn't really there, but they did manage to get the spinoff 'SchoolBell' out there, and the SchoolTool work is ongoing and being included in the 'Edubuntu' distro.

  • A Generic Failure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @12:56PM (#14716817)
    This has nothing to do with Open Source. It is about trying to develop a product without a spec., without an architect, without management and without a timeline. Kind of like pointing a group of carpenters at an empty lot and telling them to build a school.

    It wouldn't be any more or less successful at Microsoft, IBM or SAS.
    • Exactly.

      I said something similar elsewhere in this page, but you did it more succinctly.

      There's a reason why most big commercial software projects involve more than a bunch of programmer/developers sitting around and churning out code, and I think Mr Shuttleworth is catching on to why that's the case.

      I've worked on projects where the number of non-programmers outnumbered actual coders by a substantial margin, and most of the actual 'design' work was not done by the programmers, it was done in the requiremen
      • To return to the carpenter analogy, building "just another house" requires almost no architectural or engineering preplanning beyond general layout -- number of rooms, where the garage goes etc -- before turning it over to the trades. Creating something new, unique and grand (a museum; a stadium; a hydroelectric dam) involves years of planning, design, engineering and approvals before building starts. And the designers remain involved through construction to solve problems and keep things on track.
    • It is about trying to develop a product without a spec., without an architect, without management and without a timeline. Kind of like pointing a group of carpenters at an empty lot and telling them to build a school.

      Isn't that how OSS works? I don't see a spec for Linux, firefox, etc. There's no master architect that directs interfaces, it's all determined by which patch was accepted. There's no timeline to get something done, "it is done when it is done". Just check any OSS bug database, there's no

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Actually, Orlowski reasons for deriding the Mozilla team in "wander[ing] off into Lotus-eating land" are:

    "creating esoteric frameworks". Later we learn that means "Creating a neat C++ framework when what the world really needs a non-Microsoft browser is nothing but a deriliction of duty: a piece of vanity code". Except http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/ben/archives/009698 .html/ [mozillazine.org] shows XUL creation was a direct effect of AOL pressure on advertising and netscape portal integration

    "note-perfect bug tracking

  • by deadlinegrunt ( 520160 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @01:00PM (#14716860) Homepage Journal
    ...is still valid? Do one thing, do it well [wikipedia.org].

    Imagine that - simple, solid advice survives time. Reminds me of the Twelve Networks Truths of RFC 1925 Section 2-11 [faqs.org]
  • Speaking of managers, we need one at the Ubuntu art team. It's insane to see that place's activity painted by uncreative icon set wars. All while there's minimal organization and whenever you DO finish something interesting, it's too difficult to figure out how to get the right people to notice it. There's zero management, and therefore there's nothing useful happening with the time that people seem to put in it. Like stated, this leads to "geek toys".

    I'm not even being a troll here. Ubuntu artwork develop
  • "retired cosmonaut"

    He paid a bunch of money for the Russians to take him up. "Retired space tourist" maybe.
    • In the Russian space program, a person becomes a cosmonaut upon having had a successful space flight. In the U.S. space program, an astronaut is someone who has flown above 50 miles in altitude. So paying a bunch of money is a valid way to become either.
  • I think it can be summed up that Open Source faces challenges when the developers are working on code "for other people" not themselves. Two of the most successful Open Source projects are GNU (excuse me, Free Software) and the Linux Kernel. I think you can categorize both of these as situations where the developer is classified as a user of the end product. It is in their interest to make the best product possible because it actually helps their own cause.

    The case of the SchoolTool was that it was being
  • This sort of thing is a general problems with developers, and how it manifests itself depends on the environment.

    In fact, it tends to be more a problem with closed source projects in large companies (as well as with lavishly funded open source projects). Why? Because the developers in large companies are well funded, they can go on forever doing their pet things, and upper management is often easily fooled about what's going on. The only reason Shuttleworth caught this is because he has a clue. Arguably,
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @01:24PM (#14717064)
    Developers of OSS often forget that they have two choices in most cases:

    1) Meet the needs of their users and especially those who want to use their products
    2) Meet their own needs

    OSS developers need to stop using the argument that "feature X is missing because we're hobbyists." If you want to compete with the big guys, you need to give your users the features they want. It's certainly your right to prioritize based on your wants, but don't kid yourselves. If you don't give the users what they want... they'll leave.
    • I don't think there's one right way. It depends on what your goal is.

      Are they developing for 1)themselves, 2)users, 3)clients/customers?

      If you're developing for yourself, scratch your own itch, have fun.
      If you're getting paid, develop what your client wants.
      If you're trying to develop for users, good luck. Figuring out what they want and doing all that is a thankless task.
  • He was really going about it the wrong way the first time, and he was still going about it the wrong way the second time. What he should have done was start by hiring a retired school administrator who is willing to play with computers (but doesn't necessarily know anything about them). Then somebody who to keep the computer working. Then a couple of developers, chosen mostly by the school administrator based on whether they find the manager's excitement infectious.

    You always get shiny geek toys. Knowing th
  • by xeno-cat ( 147219 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @02:25PM (#14717536) Homepage
    I spoke with the project manager for SchoolTool last year when he was at an educational conference in my area. He said that what Mark basicaly learned with the first (Java based) SchoolTool is not to start a project and then go into space. Goo advice for anyone committing to large product development.

    The current SchoolTool is being written in Zope3 and is under tighter development control.

    This is very old news and does not reflect the current understandings of either SchoolTool or Marc Shuttleworth. This article could also be called "My first babysteps in the universe of Open Source development", file under ancient history.

    Kind Regards
  • Of course, it may be their product managers so infected, and not so much the programmers, as I can't imagine programmers being that enthused over Group Policy Management Consoles...

    Certainly Microsoft is the home of "Lotus eating" when it comes to security and reliability. I mean, their antispyware product disables Norton Anti-Virus? Who thought that one up?

  • SchoolTool Update (Score:3, Interesting)

    by krasni_bor ( 261801 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @02:55PM (#14717850)
    Funny to see this piece dredged up again. I'm the blogger Mark references in the story, Tom Hoffman, and for the past year and a half I've been managing the renewed SchoolTool development effort, after Steve Alexander created a new Zope 3 based architecture.

    It is definitely tricky to manage a project with such broad and lofty goals, and we've still had our share of mis-steps and mis-directions. I have a background as a teacher and self-taught Zope hacker, so I've learned a lot of lessons about software development.

    Nonetheless, a useful application is in sight. We'll have a beta this spring and serious testing in real schools in the fall of 2006. One key this time around was keeping the burn rate down and not creating specific expectations in schools and with governments that we subsequently failed to meet.

    If you're interested in open source software for schools, check out http://schooltool.org./ [schooltool.org.]
  • Peer Review (Score:2, Insightful)

    by demon411 ( 827680 )
    what we need is not management BUT

    -payment to coder only when the product meets requirements
    (why did anyone get paid if all you got were shiny toys!)
    -select coders who can self manage
    -peer review

    Peer Review is very important! You could have college students doing it, as long as someone goes in there and checks that the code does what it says it should.

    Was in process of moderating but removed my moderation to make this comment
    • Your first point is a bit specious. You can't set up a software development team with the assumption that everyone gets paid "in a year or two". Even if I had enough in the bank to do that, I wouldn't. A year or two of effort with a potential $0 payout? You just won't find people who will do that.

      Now, if you want to tack a huge honkin' bonus onto a successful contract, that might provide the incentives you're looking for.
  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @04:15PM (#14718776) Homepage
    Seems lots of places do quite well with egalitarian structures. No-one complains about India, Japan, China putting out shiny geek toys or wandering into lotus land even though they don't have American "org charts".

    The issue is more to do with programmers who can't stay on track rather than programmers who ignore the "org chart".

  • Zope is a good technology choice for this project. And SchoolTool is a very neat project indeed. I always thought the world lacked such a product.

    But no matter what technology and what sort of software you're building - be it OSS or not - you need a plan how to do it and should stick to that plan as far as possible. That's the lesson he learned.
  • by tap ( 18562 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2006 @05:43PM (#14719543) Homepage
    People have been wanting 16-bit color and CMYK support in the gimp since the previous century. FilmGimp aka Cinepaint was the gimp with 16-bit years ago. Why does the gimp still not have 16-bit color when the code has been around for years?

    The answer is GEGL, a non-existant "shiny geek toy". GEGL is supposed to be some amazing framework that will handle image operations the Right Way. It will make 16-bit color, CMYK, and adjustment layers appear by magic. It will be fast and generalized and light-years beyond anything Adobe has and wash your windows for you. Who knows what it is supposed to do now? Unlike the codebase of GEGL, the legend of GEGL grows by leaps and bounds.

    It you read the gimp devel list archives, you'll see many cases of people saying, "I want to code CMYK", or, "I have 16 bit support". The developers always send them away, "You are doing things the Wrong Way, you must work on GEGL instead!" The result is, development is killed.

    What of GEGL? Years go by and it's nothing more a "design document" aka Musings of a Lotus-Eater, that hasn't been updated since the Clinton administration. A CVS repository that goes eight months at a time between commits. No code that actually compiles and does anything. It's still just a pipe-dream shiny geek toy.

    Mark Shutteworth tried to fund someone to work on GEGL. I imagine nothing ever came of it.

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