FOSDEM was as excellent this year as ever, but for me it was a bit bittersweet Seeing the other Classpath hackers is always a joy. This is the best programming community I’ve ever worked in, and so it is sad that OpenJDK is (slowly) eclipsing our efforts. On the other hand, as I’ve said before, the OpenJDK release is the best conclusion we could possibly have hoped for, and, I think, the most significant free software event of the last 5 years. (I said that at FOSDEM and Tom Marble, I think, asked me: “what about Open Solaris?”. I felt a little embarrassed, since I didn’t know what to say right then. But in hindsight, I suppose it would be that we already have an excellent, complete free operating system.)
I was very pleased to meet all the Sun guys at FOSDEM. I confess, I was a bit worried that this wouldn’t play out well, but in the end I think they did an excellent job of community engagement. The folks who came — Tom Marble, Mark Reinhold, Peter Ahe, Igor Nekrestyanov, Peter Kessler, David Herron, and Simon Phipps — are smart, interesting guys, not to mention fun to have a beer with. Also they listened (and continue to listen) to our concerns, they tried to understand our needs, and in general seem to get the spirit behind free software. Add to that a bit of praise for us and you have a model of how to initially transform a project from closed to open, no easy task.
Since I’m in limbo a little bit, job-wise, and since I don’t often see fellow developers, I took advantage of FOSDEM to ask folks what they think I ought to do. I think I was quite doggedly boring about it. Anyway, I did get a few interesting responses.
The first is that, by and large, people seem to enjoy what they do, or at least think that what they work on is important. Michael Meeks said I ought to work on OO.o. Miguel said I should work on Mono. Tom Marble thought that OpenJDK is the place to be. (Funnily, I don’t recall anybody thinking that incremental C++ compilation is interesting… though this fits the theory.)
Another approach I took was to ask people “what is the most important gap in free software?”. What is it we don’t do well, that we need, that nobody is working on? I ask myself this constantly — perhaps pointlessly, since coming up with an answer seems to be beyond me.
One nice answer I got was “documentation”, though of course I immediately shot that down 😉
Andrew suggested that asking this question about free software was having too narrow a scope, and he pointed to OLPC as an example of widening of vision. And, this makes sense… as free software gradually takes over the industry, us old-timers do have to shed our old biases.
Overall I think the best (meta-) advice I got was from Miguel. When not pitching me mono hacking he said I ought to stop fixing bugs (super important!) and take a break to think about things. Good advice.
The big result is, I suppose, the obvious one. Well, maybe obvious to you, it took me quite a while to get here: nobody else is going to have the answer I’m looking for. Back to the drawing board, looking for something to be passionate about. It is a scary and difficult time.