Subject: Re: Repairing the damage (was Re: History of the NetBSD Foundation)
To: Brian McEwen <>
From: Thor Lancelot Simon <>
List: netbsd-users
Date: 09/04/2006 23:00:24
On Mon, Sep 04, 2006 at 07:42:23PM -0400, Brian McEwen wrote:
> -So, there are developers all over the world (I reasonably suspect,  
> but haven't checked) signing some contract with an .org (.com?  
> perhaps) based on laws of... Delaware, USA?  Why do they feel held to  
> terms of a "secret" and perhaps dubious contract with some foundation  
> in the USA?

Um.  What "secret" contract?  Marc Tooley asked us to post it two days
ago, and we promptly did.

Similarly, there have been some complaints about the Foundation's bylaws;
we wish the person bringing those complaints had shared them with us half
a decade ago, but you should note that even the supposed leader of this
hypothetical evil-coup-d'etat-conspiracy almost immediately pointed out
that some of the comments were reasonable, and that we should look into
changing the bylaws appropriately.

Of course, that takes time, since we have 400 members and we have to
arrange a vote, but I think you can be pretty sure that (despite the
inevitability of more hyperbole, scary innuendo, attack, invective,
insult, and so forth directed at any convenient target in the interim)
the question will be addressed in the reasonably near future -- a
month or two would be my guess.

> -Why has no-one yet said "no, there isn't a separate mailing list,  
> set of decision makers, etc (I have lost track-- what else? there has  
> been a bit that should be definitively true, or false- and we are  
> techie enough here that "anonymous" disclosure of evidence of things  
> "hidden" that should in fact be known isn't ridiculously difficult).

Because this is worse than a zero-sum game.  Given well over a decade
of private conversations, dinner-table arguments, email bickering,
petty squabbles, and trivial political detail to draw on, it's possible
to spin out an essentially limitless series of half-truths and strange
shadings, each of which takes significant time and effort to refute in
turn.  Meanwhile, the major result of continuing to participate in this
discussion, really, is simply that everyone involved looks and feels
bad for doing so.  At some point, you have to throw up your hands and
say "hey, we're not monsters, and maybe if we just leave this well
enough alone ang go back to, well, um, not being monsters, most people
will reach some sensible conclusion for themselves."  The effort wasted
on this could of course have been better spent making NetBSD better;
and really, that is how most of us would prefer to spend our time.

Ask yourself this: there are approximately 400 members of the NetBSD
Foundation, developers of the NetBSD project.  Do you really believe
that if dreadful things like you're asking about were going on, you
wouldn't be hearing about it from them?  You say above that
"'anonymous' disclosure of evidence of things 'hidden' that should in
fact be known isn't ridiculously difficult" -- think that through, then,
and draw your own conclusion.

It is always possible to take any set of facts and introduce them to
a new audience such that they are colored as brightly as possible to
cast the light one wants on one's own actions.  It's even possible to
do so while seeming to say -- but not quite saying -- things that are
much worse than the facts would actually sustain if they _were_ seen
in the light most favorable to you.

One plain example from this recent bout of shameful mud-wrestling
would be the implication that somehow if the NetBSD Foundation closed
up shop tomorrow, the source code that is NetBSD would no longer be
free.  The fact of the matter, of course, is that whether there is a
mistake in the bylaws or not, no matter who owns that source code
tomorrow, you have a _permanent license to use it that is already valid
today_ -- nobody can revoke that license, so if Genghis Khan ended up
owning the copyright to the code, there's not much reason why anyone
should care.  Ask an intellectual property lawyer if you don't believe
me, but the plain text of the license makes it pretty darned clear.  In
fact, nobody can  put the open-source genie back in the bottle, no matter
how convenient it might be for certain arguments if that bottle could be
set, gently glowing, next to the pretty colored lamp.

I think that as a large open-source project with hundreds of members, we
run a pretty clean and open shop.  We do some things in a plain and open
manner that other such projects do not -- for example, there are some,
including one of the other BSD projects, where there's _no_ coporate
structure, and donations are funneled through people's private bank
accounts.  We try to do better than that, and we try to do things the way
most large OSS projects do.  For example, most such projects have internal,
members-only mailing lists, and a policy that private mail should not
be forwarded to the outside world; most have some internal process of
elections; most have a board of directors.  All of these are things that,
in the recent discussion, have been essentially cast as bad.  And now the
question is, I suppose, with all this bad stuff going on, why you shouldn't
believe any other bad thing someone can suggest to you or that you can
imagine yourself.  I think the right path to an answer is pretty clear:
ask yourself whether you really think that these things are bad.  I, for
one, don't; and I don't see any of the hundreds of other active NetBSD
developers popping up here to say so either, so I am pretty confident that
the people I work with are okay with it, too.

But I am also pretty confident that neither I nor they have limitless
time to respond to nasty comments on the mailing lists -- even, sadly,
if those comments are so constructed as to scare a lot of users.  At
some point you have to hope people will look at what you _do_, rather
than listening to every ugly thing anyone says, and realize that you
are probably just not so bad.

So I'm sorry I, at least, haven't responded to every frightening remark
that has been made about NetBSD, but I certainly don't think that means
it's reasonable to assume that they must be true.  I am done with this
discussion; I suspect most of my fellow developers are as well; we have
had enough heartache and abuse and we would like, as you may understand,
to get back to work.