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News and Analysis: Monkey Do, KDE Do, Too (Mosfet Opens Fire on KDE)

Jun 19, 2001, 21:31 (94 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis E. Powell)

By Dennis E. Powell, LinuxPlanet

The same week that smoldering hostilities in the GNOME development community burst into flame with the angry resignation of a GNOME 2.0 release coordinator, a longtime KDE developer has opened fire on that desktop project. The two desktops have long engaged in heated competition, which now seems to entail which can do the most damage not to the other but to itself.

Both disputes highlight potential problems in large development projects staffed in whole or part by unpaid volunteers, and the KDE dispute underlines the ambiguities surrounding the rights of individual developers involved in such projects.

In a blistering commentary on his home page, Daniel M. Duley, known as "Mosfet" in the KDE community, charged that the KDE-2.2 release manager, Waldo Bastian, had asked him to remove his code for Duley's "Pixie Image Management System" from the KDE CVS tree, but when Duley removed some otther items he had written, including popular (and in one case the default in many installations) themes, Bastian added it back without Duley's permission and revoked Duley's CVS access.

"Well, it seems that the KDE project has decided to both fork my code, against the author's wishes, and include them unmaintained back into the KDE libraries," said Duley. "This is a regretable circumstance, and I think reflects very badly on the KDE project itself. Of course they have the right to fork whatever they want, but usually when you do so it's to add features. In this case it's not - it's because they simply want to include things that I (the author) do not into KDE CVS where I would ratherwrite and package them independently. I think the crass behavior shown in this should serve as a warning to all free software developers."

In response, Bastian issued a copyrighted email message on the kde-devel mailing list in which he said he bore Duley no ill will, but found him ill-suited to a KDE-type development effort -- and pointed out that KDE has rights to Duley's code.

"[B]y putting your code under and open source license and putting it in KDE CVS you give the world at large, as well as KDE in particular, the irrevocable right to use your code," Bastian wrote. "And KDE will use that right at its discretion to protect the interests of KDE, even if that goes against the wishes of the author at that point in time.

"To relate the above to the recent actions by Daniel (aka 'mosfet'). I don't think that Daniel accepts the responsibilities that come with having code in CVS and therefor I believe that it is better that from now on Daniel will develop his code outside KDE CVS. In that light I have asked Daniel to remove Pixie from CVS. Pixie is cleary primarily developed by Daniel and there is no

point in keeping a version of it in KDE CVS when all further development will be done by Daniel outside KDE CVS. I haven't asked Daniel to remove any of its other code because this code is clearly an integral part of KDE. Removing it would harm the interest of KDE and its users. Removing such code can not be allowed."

Bastian charged, and Duley admitted, that Duley has achieved a reputation among KDE developers for appearing with new code just before a major release and arguing for its inclusion. KDE-2.2beta1 is scheduled to be tagged for release before month's end.

The public eruption had been building for several days following Bastian's request that Pixie be taken out of CVS. And it became a public dispute as dissention among GNOME developers over the direction of GNOME 2.0 flared, with the resignation of Martin Baulig, the GNOME 2.0 release coordinator, in what apparently was a dispute with Ximian, Inc., the surviving GNOME-based corporation. This led to unexpectedly harsh words from a leader of the Linux development community, Alan Cox.

"Thats why I'm now mostly using XFCE," wrote Cox in a post to the GNOME-hackers mailing list. "Its no longer about building a cool environment; its about a small number of companies trying to screw each other.

"Fortunately for GNOME most of those companies wont be here in 12 months time because they don't have a credible business model. At that point it will be interesting to see how people work together again."

The disputes among the two largest Linux desktop projects are concrete examples of questions that have been raised in the abstract as Linux's size and influence has grown: To what extent do developers have control over the implentation of their own code? Is there a place for the work-alone developer in large projects? Can permission to use a developer's code, once given, be withdrawn?

And in a broader view: How large a project can be successfully undertaken by unpaid developers? Is it inevitable that past a certain point, factors other than the immediate task at hand govern the progress of a project?

These questions have been mulled for years without any answers forthcoming. If the disputes within the desktop development communities are indicative of a trend, those answers may soon be urgently needed.

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