Can FreeBSD Grow Large?

Shawn Harrison harrison at
Tue Feb 15 12:15:19 PST 2005

> cpghost at wrote [02/15/05 12:40 PM]:
>> On Tue, Feb 15, 2005 at 04:00:00PM +0100, Roger 'Rocky' Vetterberg wrote:
>>>>The FreeBSD Project should IMHO remain vendor neutral,
>>>>and stick to code development. 
>>>Absolutely. No argument here, and so far I have not heard anyone 
>>>else, pro or con image change, argue otherwise.
>> This is exactly the point here. By calling for a logo competition,
>> the Project is mutating into a vendor. If that is really the idea,
>> a lot of problems could ensue, e.g. for the Foundation's non-profit
>> status etc...
>> Talking about this is perhaps much more important that a puny fight
>> over logos, Beastie, or whatever.

I agree. Here is one of the real questions to be resolved: Is the 
FreeBSD project large enough to make a real and significant place for 
those who have non-programming skills, or is it only to be a hackers' OS?

I believe it is _big_ enough, but I don't know if it's _large_ enough. 
"Big" means numbers. "Large" means width and breadth and diversity.

As I understand the current situation, only those who are trusted 
hackers (committers) have any structural voice whatsoever in the 
community. That impression was dramatically confirmed yesterday by a 
post from one of the committers.

There is no question that the trusted hackers should be the only ones 
with any say over the technical direction of the codebase. But that 
doesn't mean they should be the only decision-making body in the 
community. Issues of public relations, advocacy, image, even 
documentation -- these are things that a much larger (or different) 
spectrum of people can contribute to and should have control of.

To take one example, I can script as well as the next guy, and I studied 
C once, but I am a long way from having the technical chops to be a 
committer. I spend 8 hours per day managing a large editing project 
involving dozens of people, and doing a (small) portion of the editing 
myself. I could probably write, and could certainly edit, many of the 
documents that would be produced. If I were to get involved in the 
FreeBSD project at that level, and my contributions were of consistently 
high value, then there should be some mechanism to recognize my 
contribution and formally give me the authority to make certain kinds of 
decisions (probably involving words rather than code).

Having a community structure that involves writers and editors and 
salespeople as well as hackers doesn't (and shouldn't) directly affect 
what is done in the codebase. The "realms of authority" are distinct. 
Each type of contributor should be able to exercise authority in his/her 
own area of expertise. Kernel hackers shouldn't be judging web designs. 
(Well, unless they are in fact gifted as designers -- sometimes so! But 
many times not. Notice how ugly a lot of hackers' websites are, even 
those who bill themselves as web consultants?)

Without a mechanism / structure that recognizes and includes all kinds 
of people as contributors and as "trusted Xers" in whatever X they do, 
FreeBSD has little chance to grow, because it has no way to recognize 
and cultivate the non-hackers of the world. (Perhaps that is the way 
that some people want it. But I would assume -advocacy@ would mean that 
we want many people to adopt FreeBSD, not just those who are kernel coders.)

Just because people aren't getting money out their contributions doesn't 
mean they don't want _something_ for their effort. In many free software 
communities, the something is recognition and authority. I don't see a 
mechanism for that in the FreeBSD community. It is a meritocracy in 
which only one kind of merit counts for anything. Am I missing 
something? Perhaps I'm overstating the case?

If there is a mechanism for other groups of people to gain real 
position, recognition, authority, etc. in the FreeBSD community, then a 
lot more of them will be inclined to get excited about it, get involved 
with it, promote it, get their friends to try it. I'm assuming that this 
would be a good thing for FreeBSD.

Shawn Harrison

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