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Re: What a modern collaboration toolkit looks like

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: What a modern collaboration toolkit looks like
Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2008 20:34:33 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.9i

Hi, Eric!

On Mon, Dec 31, 2007 at 10:25:09AM -0500, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> Alan Mackenzie <address@hidden>:
> > Emacs is an atypical, very old, piece of free software.  Wesnoth seems to
> > be about 5 years old.  (I haven't found the repository online.)  This has
> > some bearing on the differences in development processes.

> Indeed.  It means we have a lot of history and bad habits to unburden
> ourselves of, and that's a problem Wesnoth does not have as
> acutely. (It dates from 2003.)

[ .... ]

> > What about fixes that are too big for instant review?  Emacs has lots
> > of bugs (and often fixes ;-) that are barely tractable, so that the
> > slower pace of email seems a better fit.

> IRC functions as a kind of triage on such changes.  If we can't resolve
> a problem in real time, we fall back to the mailing list.  This happens
> much less often than I myself would have expected before I became used
> to this style.

Again, how can the Emacs developers do this?  Some of us live in North
America, others in Europe, East Asia and New Zealand, possibly other
places too.  We're never all going to be on line at the same time.
Surely this process would promote a minority clique who would be making
all the decisions.

> I'll admit, it did take me some adjustment to get used to.  The Wesnoth
> devs are mostly kids who have grown up in a post-MTV world, used to
> constant multitasking.  I just turned 50.

Yes, it's frightening.  I'll be 50 next month.

> When I first contemplated getting involved, about nine months ago now,
> I had to wrestle with some fear that (a) I would be distracted and
> losing focus all the time, and (b) worse, I might discover that I was
> simply too old and lacked the mental agility to keep up.

> The second, especially, would have been crushing. I had to screw up my
> courage to try doing things their way lest I discover myself to
> be inadequate.

I empathise with this, too.  I anticipate it making me feel dizzy.

> In fact, both fears proved groundless.  Nowadays I routinely have an
> IRC client open in five tabs to three different projects, and it all
> just becomes part of my flow.  I think it matters a lot that IRC chat
> is silent -- I absolutely can't imagine imagine maintaining
> concentration while multiplexing that many voice channels.

For me, silence means _nothing_ flashing or moving on the screen (except,
perhaps, a cursor), no garishness, {scroll,tool,menu} bars switched off,
and absolutely nothing like a dialog boxes exploding in my face.

[ .... ]

> > Eric, how well do you think this could work at all for Emacs?

> I'm going to stop waving my hands and run some numbers.  According to
> sloccount, the C core of Emacs is just about twice the size of
> Wesnoth's C++.  Assuming the usual quadratic rise in bug density with
> LOC, the equivalent release tempo would be three months.

> But I think that's an overestimate.  Our devs are more capable, and a fair
> amount of the Emacs core is either effectively dead (like, say, the VMS
> support) or so stable that it never needs to be touched.  Then there's
> the C vs. C++ difference.  

> All in all, I think six weeks is a reasonable guess for where we'd end up.

OK.  So we'd be modifying our goal of "bug free, exhaustively tested at
each major release".  This might be good, might be bad.

> "But..." I hear you say "you're ignoring the Lisp!".  Yes, I am -- and
> that's because one thing rather clear from the Changelogs and NEWS
> files is that the Lisp code is not where the long-term release blockers
> tend to pop up.

Really?  That surprises me, though I haven't ever really studied the

> > > More generally, development happens *fast*.  I don't have to wait weeks
> > > to find out whether other devs think of an idea.  Commonly I know
> > > within minutes.

> > On emacs-devel, this takes hours, not weeks.  At any given time, most
> > Emacs developers are either asleep or doing other things (like earning
> > their living).  Doesn't this quick-fire style end up excluding lots of
> > hackers from participation?

> It doesn't seem to work that way in practice.  Or, at least, I don't
> hear hackers bitching about not being involved in decisions.  What the
> core devs (including me) seem to do is keep one eye on the project IRC
> channel more or less constantly while doing those other things.

Do these hackers live in a narrow band of time zones?

[ .... ]

Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

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