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.


  • gap in free software: Exchange server replacement.

  • > Another approach I took was to ask people “what is the most important gap in free software?”.

    It’s a great question. I’d like to see an AppleScript-like language for tying GNOME (and other) applications together. I’d like to see a way to encapsulate generic TCP sessions through Jabber, for when two people are both behind NAT and want to use e.g. gobby. These are probably both too specific to be good answers to the question, though.

    I think projects like nouveau are fixing one of the most important gaps in free software — working hardware. I’m considering becoming an X hacker in my next life, because the community really needs more people able to work on this stuff. Finally, there’s always the wish for a multithreaded emacs.. 😉

    – Chris.

  • It may go without saying, but it is ok to be between things ‘to be passionate about’ for a while. It can turn into a trap though if you get stuck there.

  • If the new project that you’re looking to work on will be done in your free time, then rather than becoming a “Free Software Mercenary” I would suggest that you take up something that you have always wanted to work on or wanted to see done. If interactive, incremental C/C++ compilation is what you are really interested in, then just go for it rather than testing the waters to see if folks are really enthused about having such a tool in their hand. What matters is if *you* are having fun doing it rather than what others perceive its value to be.

    My 2 paise.

  • […] Original post by tom […]

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