Subject Something to think about...
Author Jim Starkey
A friend who follows NetBSD forwarded this to me. I thought it might be
interesting reading for Firebird.

> Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2006 19:27:23 -0400
> From: "Charles M. Hannum" <mycroft@...>
> To: netbsd-users@...
> Cc: freebsd-chat@..., misc@...
> Subject: The future of NetBSD
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
> User-Agent: Mutt/1.5.9i
> The NetBSD Project has stagnated to the point of irrelevance. It has
> gotten to the point that being associated with the project is often
> more of a liability than an asset. I will attempt to explain how this
> happened, what the current state of affairs is, and what needs to be
> done to attempt to fix the situation.
> As one of the 4 originators of NetBSD, I am in a fairly unique position.
> I am the only one who has continuously participated and/or watched the
> project over its entire history. Many changes have taken place, and at
> the same time many things have remained the same -- including some of
> our early mistakes.
> I'd like to say that I'm some great visionary, who foresaw the whole OSS
> market, but the fact is that's BS. When we started the project, Linux
> and 386BSD were both little hobbyist systems, both pretty buggy, and
> both lacking a lot of important hardware support. Mostly we were
> scratching an itch: there was no complete package of 386BSD plus the
> necessary patches to make it run on more systems and fix bugs, and there
> was no sign that Bill Jolitz was going to resurface and do anything.
> Much of the project structure evolved because of problems we had early
> on. Probably our best choice was to start using central version control
> right off; this has enabled a very wide view of the code history and
> (eventually) made remote collaboration with a large number of developers
> much easier. Some other things we fudged; e.g. Chris got tired of being
> the point man for everything, and was trying to graduate college, so we
> created an internal "cabal" for managing the project, which became known
> as the "core group". Although the web was very new, we set up a web
> site fairly early, to disseminate information about the project and our
> releases.
> Much of this early structure (CVS, web site, cabal, etc.) was copied
> verbatim by other open source (this term not being in wide use yet)
> projects -- even the form of the project name and the term "core". This
> later became a kind of standard template for starting up an open source
> project.
> Unfortunately, we made some mistakes here. As we've seen over the
> years, one of the great successes of Linux was that it had a strong
> leader, who set goals and directions, and was able to get people to do
> what he wanted -- or find someone else to do it. This latter part is
> also a key element; there was no sense that anyone else "owned" a piece
> of Linux (although de facto "ownership" has happened in some parts); if
> you didn't produce, Linus would use someone else's code. If you wanted
> people to use your stuff, you had to keep moving.
> NetBSD did not have this. Partly due to lack of people, and partly due
> to a more corporate mentality, projects were often "locked". One person
> would say they were working on a project, and everyone else would be
> told to refer to them. Often these projects stagnated, or never
> progressed at all. If they did, the motivators were often very slow.
> As a result, many important projects have moved at a glacial pace, or
> never materialized at all.
> I'm sorry to say that I helped create this problem, and that most of the
> projects which modeled themselves after NetBSD (probably due to its high
> popularity in 1993 and 1994) have suffered similar problems. FreeBSD
> and XFree86, for example, have both forked successor projects (Dragonfly
> and for very similar reasons.
> Unfortunately, these problems still exist in the NetBSD project today,
> and nothing is being done to fix them.
> --
> I won't attempt to pin blame on any specific people for this, except to
> say that some of it is definitely my fault. It's only in retrospect
> that I see so clearly the need for a very strong leader. Had I pursued
> it 10 years ago, things might be very different. Such is life. But
> let's talk about the situation today.
> Today, the project is run by a different cabal. This is the result of a
> coup that took place in 2000-2001, in which The NetBSD Foundation was
> taken over by a fraudulent change of the board of directors. (Note:
> It's probably too late for me to pursue any legal remedy for this,
> unfortunately.) Although "The NetBSD Project" and "The NetBSD
> Foundation" were intended from the start to be separate entities -- the
> latter supplying support infrastructure for the former -- this
> distinction has been actively blurred since, so that the current "board"
> of TNF has rather tight control over many aspects of TNP.
> Were TNF comprised of a good set of leaders, this situation might be
> somewhat acceptable -- though certainly not ideal. The problem is,
> there are really no leaders at this point. "Goals" for releases are not
> based on customer feedback or looking forward to future needs, but
> solely on the basis of what looks like it's bubbled up enough that it
> might be possible to finish in time. There is no high-level direction;
> if you ask "what about the problems with threads" or "will there be a
> flash-friendly file system", the best you'll get is "we'd love to have
> both" -- but no work is done to recruit people to code these things, or
> encourage existing developers to work on them.
> This vacuum has contributed materially to the project's current
> stagnation. Indeed, NetBSD is very far behind on a plethora of very
> important projects. Threading doesn't really work across multiple CPUs
> -- and is even somewhat buggy on one CPU. There is no good flash file
> system. There is no file system journaling (except for LFS, which is
> still somewhat experimental). Although there's been some recent work on
> suspend support, it's still mostly broken. Power management is very
> primitive. Etc. Even new hardware support is generally not being
> originated in NetBSD any more; it's being developed by FreeBSD and
> OpenBSD, and being picked up later. (I think the only recent exception
> to this of any significance is Bluetooth support.)
> For these reasons and others, the project has fallen almost to the point
> of irrelevance. (Some people will probably argue that it's beyond that
> point, but I'm trying to be generous.) This is unfortunate, especially
> since NetBSD usage -- especially in the embedded space -- was growing at
> a good rate in 2000 and 2001, prior to the aforementioned coup.
> --
> At this point most readers are probably wondering whether I'm just
> writing a eulogy for the NetBSD project. In some ways, I am -- it's
> clear that the project, as it currently exists, has no future. It will
> continue to fall further behind, and to become even less relevant. This
> is a sad conclusion to a project that had such bright prospects when it
> started.
> I admit that I may be wrong about this, but I assume that most people
> who have contributed to NetBSD, and/or continue to do so, do not desire
> to see the project wallow away like this. So I will outline what I
> think is the only way out:
> 1) There must be a strong leadership, and it is not the current one.
> The leadership must honestly want NetBSD to be a premier, world class
> system with leading edge features. The leadership must set
> aggressive goals, and actively recruit people to make them happen.
> 2) There must be no more "locking" of projects. Just because one person
> is supposedly working on a problem, that doesn't mean you shouldn't.
> If there ideas are dumb, or even just suboptimal, do it better! If
> there is no progress, hop on it. Don't wait for someone else.
> 3) The project must become an *actual* meritocracy, not what I call a
> "volumetocracy". Right now, the people who exert the most influence
> are often the people who produce the least useful product. Indeed,
> they are often people who produce little more than fluff (e.g.
> changing line-ending whitespace!), and often break things.
> 4) Speaking of which, there must be negative feedback to discourage
> people from breaking stuff. This has been a continual problem with
> certain "developers" for more than a decade.
> 5) There are a number of aspects of the NetBSD architecture that are
> flat out broken, and need serious rehabilitation. Again, the
> leadership needs to recruit people to do these things. Some of them
> include:
> * serious problems with the threading architecture (including the
> user-kernel interface), as mentioned earlier;
> * terrible support for kernel modules;
> * the horrible mess that is 32/64-bit compatibility, resulting in
> 32-bit apps often not working right on 64-bit kernels; and
> * unbounded maintenance work due to inappropriate and rampant use of
> "quirk" tables and chip-specific tables; e.g. in SCSI, ATAPI, IDE,
> ACPI and SpeedStep support. (I actually did much of this work for
> SCSI, but am not currently able to commit it.)
> 6) The existing NetBSD Foundation must be disbanded, and replaced with
> an organization that fulfills its original purpose: to merely handle
> administrative issues, and not to manage day-to-day affairs. The
> extra committees, which mostly do nothing, must be disbanded -- they
> serve only to obfuscate things. Everything else must revert to the
> historically separate entity, the NetBSD Project, to be managed based
> on technical merits. There must be no perceived glamour in
> participating in the Foundation; it must be composed of people doing
> it because they are dedicated and want to help the project.
> (I will note here that this is not due to bitterness over the coup.
> Keeping the NetBSD Project as an unincorporated association actually
> helps protect it.)
> 7) The "core" group must be replaced with people who are actually
> competent and dedicated enough to review proposals, accept feedback,
> and make good decisions. More to the point, though, the "core" group
> must only act when *needed* -- most technical decisions should be
> left to the community to hash out; it must not preempt the community
> from developing better solutions. (This is how the "core" group
> worked during most of the project's growth period.)
> 8) There must be a set of commit standards -- e.g. about when it is or
> is not acceptable to commit changes that do not change functionality;
> when multiple changed must be batched in one commit; etc. Right now
> it is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. In addition, there
> must be standards of review.
> I must repeat a point I've made earlier. The current "management" of
> the project is not going to either fix the project's problems, or lead
> the project to solutions. They are going to maintain the status quo,
> and nothing else. If the project is to rise from its charred stump,
> this "management" must be disbanded and replaced wholesale. Anything
> less is a non-solution.
> --
> To some of you, I would like to apologize. There *are* NetBSD
> developers doing good work even now. I'd like to particularly recognize
> and thank those working on kernel locking and UVM problems; wireless
> support (though I'm not sure what happened to my extensive set of rtw
> bug fixes); Bluetooth; G5; and improved ARM support. This is all good
> stuff. In the bigger picture, though, the project needs to do a lot
> more.
> --
> - Charles Hannum - past founder, developer, president and director of
> The NetBSD Project and The NetBSD Foundation; sole proprietor of The
> NetBSD Mission; proprietor of The NetBSD CD Project.
> [I'm CCing this to FreeBSD and OpenBSD lists in order to share it with
> the wider *BSD community, not to start a flame war. I hope that people
> reading it have the tact to be respectful of their peers, and consider
> how some of these issues may apply to them as well.]


Jim Starkey
Netfrastructure, Inc.
978 526-1376