A reader who has asked me to post his feature anonymously has written up the recent events surrounding a Conflict within the development of an Open Source package. It talks about what happens when egos collide over Free Software. Its a true story, but with the names and versions changed to protect those involved. This is a real problem that I'm sure many of us have seen on mailing lists before. What do you think?
The following was written by a Slashdot Reader who wants this posted Anonymously
Conflicting Open Source DevelopersI have a question for you, and a point for discussion. What "normally" happens to an open source development project when people writing code for it don't get along? How do open source authors deal with conflicts
with other open source authors? Let me relate the story about my first experience maintaining open source software, as I think it's a pretty good illustration of this. I used to work on a program (for the sake of this discussion, let's call it P, for Program) that I volunteered to take over development work on around two years ago, after the original author produced version 1.0, and had no more time to work on P.
At the time I took over maintenance and development for the package, I had lots of time free at the business where I worked. My boss was understanding enough to allow me to devote a few hours a week of paid time to P, which I believe doesn't happen often for open source authors.
As time passed, our business grew, and I had less and less time to work on P. I managed to release an alpha version with some improvements, but some people weren't pleased with the pace of development. One of them took it upon himself to start work on his own version of P. For brevity, I'll call him Mr. J, for Jerk.
Now, normally I'd cheer this, since it's what open source is all about. However, it seemed what Mr. J really wanted was acclaim. I had released version 2.0 beta of P, based on the 1.0 version from the original author. Mr. J released a version he called P 1.2, also based on the original 1.0 code, with his own modifications. This generated a lot of confusion, at least in my opinion, since he had the same name for his package as mine, and similar version numbers. So, I asked him to please change the name of the package to something else to clear things up.
His response was to publicly declare that he should be named the official maintainer of P, since I was taking too long. I should note that at this point I would have happily turned over development to him, if I'd thought he could do the job well. I didn't think he could (putting it mildly). I'm going to skip over the discussion we had on the subject on the P mailing list (on my mail server) since it includes a lot of childishness on the part of Mr. J. Suffice it to say that things ended up with Mr. J calling me a few names, and vowing to take over P as part of a larger project he was working on.
Mr. J proceeded to take a copy of the names on my mailing list, and create his own list. He declared his version to be the official version of P, and ceased to take part in the original list I had set up. After all the argument on the original list, I was glad he was gone.
That is, until someone posted a question about my version of P to his list (which he had subscribed me to as well).
He took the opportunity to publicly call me a few more names, and make some comments about my lack of progress. I had had enough at this point, and mailed him telling him that I didn't want him to mention my name at all, ever again. I was hoping he'd start completely ignoring me, leaving me free to work on P quietly, without his interruptions.
Boy, was I wrong. Mr. J proceeded to mail me back and tell me that he would do whatever he pleased (again, putting it mildly). He also added a text description offering to let me perform an obscene act on him to his .sig file, which he used publicly on mailing lists and whatnot.
Completely appalled at this point, I e-mailed his providers for web space and connectivity, threatening them and him with lawsuits if he didn't remove my name from his postings. This got another nasty response from Mr. J, but eventually did get him to remove my name from his sig file.
This brings me to present time. I now have such bad feelings associated with the whole affair that I don't like to think about P, much less work on it. I've stopped working publicly on it, in fact, and I only do development on in-house versions that will never see the light of day.
My question for Slashdot readers is this: Is my experience common? How do open source authors deal with this kind of thing? Any suggestions as to what I should have done instead?
John Q. Hacker