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Stepping Up for Gentoo

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Any day now, we should start seeing four more faces on the backs of milk cartons: those of the apparently vanished members of the former Gentoo Foundation who have apparently resigned from the five-member board.

This news came to me from Daniel Robbins, whom I contacted earlier today to ask him if he'd heard anything from the Gentoo Foundation about his Jan. 11 offer to resume his status as president of the Foundation.

Robbins offer came after it was learned that the Foundation members had apparently let the Foundation charter expire, thus revoking the Foundation's status as a legal entity. Hence my use of the word "former" to describe the Foundation.

On his blog, Robbins publicly offered to "return and serve as President of the Gentoo Foundation, renew its charter, and then work in some capacity to help to get Gentoo going in the right direction from a legal, community and technical perspective."

Earlier this afternoon, here's what Robbins wrote me:

"Apparently all but one of the Foundation members have resigned, and the remaining Foundation member is Grant Goodyear. He was away for the weekend but I have not received correspondence from him. I just contacted a former trustee who said they were able to track Grant down on the phone and he did not have any specific feedback for me."

Since then, Robbins has posted his own update of the situation over on his Funtoo blog, including a last-minute update about a communication from Grant Goodyear, who, as Robbins mentioned, is the only remaining member of the Foundation board. No word yet on whether Goodyear has responded specifically to Robbins' offer.

I have tried to contact Goodyear and the four former board members--Michael Cummings, Chris Gianelloni, Renat Lumpau, and Paul de Vrieze--to get their position in this matter, but thus far none of them have responded. Cummings' gentoo.org e-mail was returned as a nonexistent address.

Part of me wants to dive right in and ask what the heck is going on. The Gentoo Foundation was created "[i]n order to sustain the current quality and development swiftness the Gentoo project needs a framework for intellectual property protection and financial contributions while limiting the contributors' legal exposure. The Gentoo Foundation will embody this framework without intervening in the Gentoo development."

In other words, the Foundation held the purse strings and dealt with the lawyers. This is as opposed to the Gentoo Council, which implemented and discussed policies for the developers. It should be noted that while the Foundation members have clearly dropped the ball, the Council has been keeping up with their regular meetings and doing their job.

The rest of me wants to move on, not assign blame, and recommend that the Gentoo developers and Goodyear take Robbins up on his offer. While you may or may not personally agree with Robbins' position regarding Gentoo, you cannot deny that he's willing to step and and try to lead the Gentoo community again--a community he helped create when he founded the Gentoo Project in the first place.

Many may cite Robbin's departure from the project to work for Microsoft in 2005 as a really good reason to not accept his offer. Those folks should also recall that he left Microsoft only eight months later, and he hasn't been a Microsoft employee for exactly two years tomorrow.

There was a lot of bad blood stirred up in the Gentoo community about Robbins' departure, and later again during his subsequent return as a developer later in 2006. But no matter who paid his bills, he seems to have always had the best interests of the Gentoo Project in mind. The fact that he's willing to step up and lead the project again... that alone demonstrates to me he should be given a chance.

Not everyone will agree with this assessment. There's some cognent arguments against Robbins' offer out on the Web.

Whatever the Gentoo community decides, the decision should be made soon. It is not clear what kind of a development community is left, since one release in 2007 was canceled due to an apparent lack of developer resources. There is also the question of the status of the Foundation's finances, which are currently not known, and need to be ascertained as soon as possible.

So, as a user of Gentoo, and a member of the over-arching Linux community, I cast my recommendation for Gentoo to accept Robbins' offer, before Gentoo fades too far to be saved.

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