WANdisco, ur doin it rong

This entry was posted by on Monday, 3 January, 2011 at

Author’s Note: These opinions are my own. I’m one of the original folks that started the Subversion project, but no longer work on it. These thoughts do not reflect the official position of either the Subversion project or the Apache Software Foundation, which are located here on the ASF blog.

Subversion has reached the realm of Mature software — it’s yesterday’s technology, not cool or hip to work on anymore. It moves slowly. It is developed almost entirely by engineers working for corporations that need it or sell support for it. Alpha-geeks consider software like this “dead”, but the fact is that something like half of all corporate programmers use Subversion as their SCM (depending on which surveys you read.) This is a huge userbase; it may not be sexy, but it’s entrenched and here for the long haul.

Subversion isn’t unique in this position. It sits alongside other mature software such as Apache HTTPD or the GCC toolchain, which are famous projects that are similarly developed by corporate interests. There’s a tricky line to walk: none of these corporations “own” these projects. They understand that they’re acting as part of a consortium. Each interest sends representatives to the open source project, contributes code, and allows their engineers to participate in the full consensus-based evolution of the software. IBM, Apple, Google, and numerous other companies have figured out how to do this correctly:

  1. Let your engineers know what’s important to work on.
  2. Let them participate individually in the community process as usual.
  3. Profit. 98% of the time the corporations eventually get the features they want.

Today, however, we have a great counterexample of how not to participate in an open source project. Subversion was initially funded and developed by CollabNet; today at least two other companies — Elego and WANdisco — are employing numerous engineers to improve Subversion, and are just as vested in selling support and derivative products. CollabNet and Elego continue to function normally in the community, but WANdisco recently seems to have lost its marbles. Last week, they put out a press release and a CEO blogpost making some crazy statements.

It’s clear that the WANdisco CEO — David Richards — is frustrated at the slow pace at which Subversion is improving. But the two posts are simply making outrageous claims, either directly or via insinuation. David seems to believe that a cabal is preventing Subversion from advancing, and that “debate” is the evil instrument being used to block progress. He believes users are crying for the product to be improved, that the Subversion developers are ignoring them, and his company is now going to ride in on a white horse to save the project. By commanding engineers to Just Fix things, he’ll “protect the future”of Subversion, “overhauling” Subversion into a “radical new” product.

Is this guy for real? It sounds like someone read my friend Karl’s book and created a farce of “everything you’re not supposed to do” when participating in corporate open source.

Even weirder, he’s accusing developers of trying game statistics by creating lots of trivial commits. This is staggering proof that he has no knowledge of the svn developer community or its culture. If he did, he would know that nobody counts stats at all or even cares about them. David appears so desperate to prove that his company is the “leader” that he accuses a community of behaviors that he’s doing himself. (”We have the most active developers of any other company on staff” — who’s counting stats here? The svn developers, or David?)

OK, fine. So Dave Richards is a salesperson, and perhaps what he wrote is generic PR sales junk in order to get his customers excited. Unfortunately, in attempting to woo customers, he’s had the side-effect of making his company appear both clueless and antagonistic to the project:

  • Clueless: It’s obvious he has no technical knowledge of Subversion’s design, has no idea why certain features have or haven’t been written yet, and hasn’t actually brought any new technical proposals or insights to the table. All he’s done is repeat descriptions of features that everybody wants. And he actually seems to believe that all one needs to do is throw more developers at the problems. Suuuuuure.
  • Antagonistic: He’s insulted two-thirds of the active developers (and embarrassed his own employees) by declaring them to be incompetant stewards. There’s no simpler way to garner hate and come off like an ass than to say “everyone move aside and let me fix this” — it’s the opposite of consensus-driven development. It’s a juvenile, conceited behavior that completely disrespects the people and the process.

The Subversion developer community (and ASF) are known for their cool, calm-headed responses to provocations like this, which they’ve just posted. They know not to feed trolls. But speaking as a private developer, I just had to point out WANdisco’s insanity and hold it up as a textbook example of how to Fail in the open source community process.


  1. rants.org » Blog Archive » Apache Software Foundation tells WANdisco how it’s done.
  2. Apache Subversion To WANdisco, Inc: Get Real. | JetLib News