Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Go On, tell me how you really feel.

I've sat on this topic for a couple of days now. I've counted to 10, played several rounds of UT'99 with bots named as Theresa, and so on. Yet, I still think I want to do this. If the opening line wasn't a hint, I'm slightly mad. I'm slightly mad because I'm blogging about a person whom I typically hold in high regard. When he says something, it's probably a good idea to pay attention. However, this person has recently announced his intentions to leave the Mepis Community, and I just want to scream "Don't let the door hit you on the way out jackass."

A basic problem for me is trying to decide where to start on how this, desire, came about. Last year discussion really started on how turn the Mepis distribution of Linux into a community run distribution. For the most part Mepis Linux has been developed as a one man show by Warren, with other developers either being employeed on contract or agreement as time went on. The Mepis Development team has pretty much bounced back and forth between 1 or 5 people for an extremely long time. The result is that as a distribution, Mepis tends to lag on technology behind other LiveCD's. It doesn't matter how many positive reviews you get, or how stable your operating system is, or how much hardware works out of the box that doesn't work in other distributions if you pay attention to perception. Mepis has always been perceived as a slow moving, never on time distribution.

To many writers it didn't matter about the behind the scenes legal battles, the health problems Warren continues to go through, and so on. Mepis wasn't moving fast enough.

I don't mean this in a bad way, but last year talk began to circulate on how to remove Warren as a bottleneck. I don't mean remove Warren from Mepis. I mean move him into a position like Linus has with the Linux kernel. Linus enjoys a heavy oversight on the kernel, general responsibility for the release of the kernel, and the ability to still get dirty with the code. However, if Linus for some reason came down with a cold and couldn't type, that wouldn't stop Linux kernel development. Andrew, Ingo, or other lieutenants could take over for a short time and make sure releases got managed. Sure, they'd whine and complain about having to do it, but the process wouldn't stop.

So talk went on about how to best set Mepis up so that if Warren wound up in the hospital or out of commission for several months, updates, patches, and applications wouldn't be held back as a result. Sure, the named release might not occur, but users wouldn't be left completely out of a loop.

Some of these aspects were immediately attacked by various members of the community. Allen Gabston-Howell went to work on a community mirror for Mepis, and a community repository. With the family emergency mentioned before in this blog, Timkb4cq also set up a community repository. Another member of MepisLovers, Jerry, spearheaded a complete users manual, which I believe I've mentioned before as well.

Now, if you've downloaded the Mepis 7 Final, you might note that the release has some completely new artwork. What you might not know is that the new artwork was accomplished in I think under 2 weeks by some dedicated artists. Now, I feel a little guilty since I stayed out of the new artwork progress... since I quite frankly couldn't care less. However, now seeing the new artwork, and seeing how quickly it all came together, I feel sorta stupid that I didn't try to get involved at some level.

So, the proof is there that the community can have an immediate and positive effect on Mepis Linux.

However, most of us who started seriously talking about the future of Mepis last year, probably knew it was going to be a long road. Mepis Linux wasn't going to become a community-distribution overnight. There are a lot of technical details still to go in how to handle the OS as we try to move from a loose-knit chaotic group into something with a visible form.

For example, Ubuntu has as Ubuntu Technical Board, whose general purpose is to oversee programs that are used with Ubuntu. Mepis Linux is going to need something like that. There are going to have to be people who check the packages that are in the repositories, review suggested packages for inclusion, and so on.

There has to be a stated definition of what Mepis is, what it's going to be, and how that is going to be accomplished, and that is a definition that all contributers would have to hold to. We've had multiple posts in the MepisLovers forums about people who want full disk encryption in the Mepis Installer. I'm firmly against that because I see Mepis being targeted to just work.

One of the key features I see in Mepis is that it is a complete OS off of the disc. There are not that many choices to make when you install it. Some services and some formatting, but for the most part, what you see on the LiveCD... is what you get. I personally think that Mepis should be about simplicity from the disc.

All of this is made more complicated by Warren himself. I think I've used the analogy in the past that getting information out of warren was akin to trying to pull a tooth from a live Polar Bear. It hurt last year when Warren announced that he was going back into contracting. Mepis had pretty much failed to make a positive financial impact on Warren.

That move hit me since I'm trying to build a business based on Linux offering pre-built computers, books, and online guides. If Warren couldn't make it work? What hope do I have? The crucial difference that I have to remind myself of is that MepisGuides is being turned in Linux Guides by Je.Saist. In order to sell computers and books I can't use Mepis as a branding. I can state that the books feature Mepis, and that the computers come installed with Mepis, and I can insure that money from the sales gets back to Warren, but I have to use a different branding for myself. The result is that I can be flexible. I can offer OpenSuse. I can offer RedHat. I can do support for other versions of Linux. In most cases, if my guides don't depend on Mepis Assistants, they'll generally work on other versions of Linux.

The process is made more complicated by Warren's health. I perhaps was the one responsible for spreading the idea that Warren was in bad health again during his move back into contracting when trying to counter-act potential negative community feelings over the lack of updates.

Most of us don't want to talk about health. Aside from a post on my old LiveJournal blog I don't think I've brought up my own nerve problems here. I don't want to talk about how a neurosurgeon looked me in the eyes and told me that if my legs went again I could be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I don't want to talk about how I can't run or walk extensively because my knees swell up and turn purple. I don't want to be known as that "Sick guy who really needs your help." I want to be known as that "tech guy who writes a great blog, makes you think" and as "that tech guy who does an awesome visual documentation site" and as "that tech guy that really knows his hardware." I know a couple of other people on MepisLovers who go out of their way not to talk about medical problems they have.

All of this is going somewhere, and I'm getting to it. The point for me is that I don't really like negative behavior around Mepis. I'd rather be focused on what is next, than on what is now.

So, it hurts again when I see somebody whose been a valued part of the community decide that Mepis isn't moving fast enough, Warren isn't responding fast enough, there isn't enough interest, and so on, decide that he's going to leave the community. From my perspective I perhaps see the move in a worse light since I know this person has threatened to leave again, and again, and again, in the past. It's almost a 3 month cycle of "things are not going the way I think they should be going, I'm pulling the plug and leaving." After a point... that gets old. It's gotten to the point now that I wish the person would shut his trap... and leave. Go ahead, pull the plug, leave a nice note saying goodbye and thanks for all the fish. Then don't come back.

Now, I know Warren is working on Mepis. I know that it is a priority for him. I also know that he's not at own home. He's in a contract apartment last time I checked. He's at a job where people say "thank you for being here" on a regular basis. He's got tasks to do aside from Mepis itself. So what if I don't hear from Warren in a week or so. So what if I don't get an email, or I don't see him log in to say a bug tracking system?

I knew last year that Mepis as a community run distribution probably wasn't going to be a reality until 2009. I think many of the others involved know that there is an extremely long road ahead as we try to find a balance between what works, and what keeps everybody involved at some level. I knew last year that Warren probably wasn't going to be checking in every week, on the week, and so on. I knew that like me, he can go for months without a peep... then turn around and post something amazing.

I, quite frankly, am horribly embarrased about updating the Guide site's front page. It's... I dunno, two months old now I think. That doesn't mean I've stopped committing guides to the archives, or that I've stopped working on the guides. I've got several hardware reviews and other items that need to go up.
In fact, I've actually got a guest submission sitting in the an email inbox that I've been horribly delayed on posting... which is actually the first guest submission ever.

At the same time though, I admit my front page is a mess. The current model of all the guides on the page worked for a little while... but now that I've got guides for AntiX, Mepis-7, Mepis 6, Mepis 3 Series, FTI, Cox, and so on... browsing the front page looking for a specific guide is a bloody pain in the rear. I freely admit that, and I already know how I intend to fix the problem. Simple answer, change the tabs at the top to point to each section, and give each set of guides their own index page.

The point for me there is that I don't see how I have any place to criticize Warren for being unresponsive and less than communicative when I've probably set the benchmark in Mepis for disappearing.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not saying it is not okay to level criticism. I am saying it makes me slightly mad when somebody abuses criticism repeatedly and then runs away.
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