Sunday, April 29, 2007

Closed development instance in Eclipse ecosystem

I've been reading Bjorn's posts on open source and open development. I can't disagree with his view on open source being more than just making code available. Getting project participation, in greater capacities than just mailing lists, from community is a good thing, and that should definitely be taken into consideration with proper feedback. The very purpose of being "open" is defeated when a project starts ignoring community contribution without sensible reasons.

I've reason to write this, although I'm not strictly against closely developed open source projects.

I've been working with a modeling toolkit for quite sometime and had customized it to suit my requirements. The contribution was in the core part of the tool (GEF based clipboard, motility and other ergonomic support for better modeling experience). I sent a mail to project admin asking if they would be interested in taking this contribution, after unknown number of days I got the reply asking for contribution review. I sent it as plug-in source code, not as patch, listing changes in the packages and configs. Most of the features offered in the contribution are actually in the project road-map as enhancement list.

But, after more than two months now, I'm still without reply(positive or negative), without comments, without acknowledgment. Now, I've almost lost interest in contributing it.

I hope those required features will be implemented (in anyway project team wishes) in next major release of the project, but I can only hope because the project is not really being developed openly. How sad...

Don't get me wrong. I've nothing against the tool, the tool is excellent and remarkably well designed and implemented; Nor with the team developing it, it's their job. But they should definitely mention somewhere that they are not open to external contributions in development.

13 comments:

Chris Aniszczyk (zx) said...

the only thing I can say is file a bug with patches and then lambast the team on your blog, that's how you get things moving :)

Chris Aniszczyk (zx) said...

most teams only like working with patches, the smaller and more incremental you can make them the better.

Nirav said...

hey zx, thanks for the tip ;) .
Well if they care to see and respond i'm ready to do that as well.

Mike Milinkovich said...

Nirav, Eclipse projects are not supposed to take contributions sent to them via private emails. Contributions need to come in via the Eclipse website, preferrably through Bugzilla. This is partly motivated by transparency, and partly by IP considerations (we want contributions to be covered by the Eclipse terms of use).

I think that there is at least the possibility that is part of the issue here.

It is unfortunate that the project has not responded at all. They should have at least responded to your email with a note saying to post a bug.

Please file a bug, and let's see what happens. :-)

Nirav Thaker said...

Thanks Mike, that is interesting point, but the modifications in contribution were big enough (many files) to avoid a direct patch.

Perhaps I should have created multiple patch and submitted, anyway, I'll give it another try.

Mike Milinkovich said...

That's great. Thanks.

To be clear, Bugzilla is not just the mechanism that the projects use to receive code and patches. It is also the mechanism used for transparent project-related conversations with the community.

The larger the contribution (and it sounds like yours is big), the more important the dialogue with the project's committers will be. Don't forget that there may be perfectly good technical reasons why your contribution doesn't match what the existing committers want to do with the project. (Of course, one way to fix that would be to become a committer yourself :-) )

Best of luck, and please let us know how it goes.

Mike Milinkovich said...

Ahhhh darn.

I guess I am more jet-lagged than I thought.

I misread your post to say that you were having problems getting a fix into GEF, and my attempts at being helpful were related to interacting with the GEF team. How the TopCased project works, I have no idea.

Sorry :-(

Nirav Thaker said...

I was starting to guess that but that's fine :).

Pierre said...

Hi Nirav,

I am involved in TOPCASED, especially in its technical board. I apologize for our lack of reactivity !

TOPCASED is an open project, but we are still not able to manage efficiently "external" patchs (several are waiting). We have to set up something like the committer agreement of Eclipse foundation. It is in progress, but as TOPCASED partners (the industrialists for example) are very much alive to the Intellextual Property topic, it takes time...

Nirav Thaker said...

Hey Pierre,

Thanks for the response. Well, I didn't know about TOPCASED partners.

There's little that I can do about intellectual property topic :(, but I certainly understand EPL is commercial friendly.

Pierre said...

You will find information about the project partners at http://www.topcased.org. We are also working on improving our communication means ;-)

Regarding IP, the license itself is not a problem. As you noticed, all our source code is released under EPL to make easy integration into commercial products and to guarantee the core code and its improvements will remain open source.

The real problem is (if we forget the international aspect) "who is the copyright holder ?" : the developer or his employer ? Imagine that we integrate your code and that your company asks a few months later for a fee to TOPCASED users ! They may do that because they are legally the copyright holder or your code (at least for some work contracts, in some countries).

So we will probably have a document saying something like "I agree to release my code under EPL" and possibly another saying "As the employer of Mr zzz, I declare I do not hold any right on his code."

Nirav Thaker said...

If I understand it correctly, open source code belongs to no one but everyone, so a contributor can't ask for money for his/her contribution from project sponsors.

But at the same time, he can always earn from consulting this special contribution or project related services from rest of the world.

As Mike pointed out, can you guys not draft a "terms of use" agreement and ask users to comply with it?

Pierre said...

No : Open source code still belongs to their authors. Only codes in the public domain do not belong to someone (and therfore are not covered by a license). Openess of open source code is enforced by the license choosen by their author(s).

...and you are right : I am currently working on such a contributor (and/or contributor employer) agreement. I hope it will not be too long to define it.