8 Apr 2002 shlomif   » (Master)

Lost in the (GNU) Savannah

What does a developer who is otherwise productive and has good intentions to do to get a web-site and a CVS for his project? According to SourceForge and BerliOS, nothing else besides registering his project at their service. According to GNU Savannah, however, he should go through the nine levels of proving his FSF-wise purism.

I have successfully used the services of both SF and BerliOS to host projects in the past. However, I'm not too fond of the fact that SourceForge concentrates too many important projects, and I've had some logistic and technical problems with what BerliOS gives me. So I decided to give Savannah a try.

I have tried to host two projects on GNU Savannah: Rindolf and lm-solve. In both of them I had to fill the registration forms at least two times only to see my submission rejected from some reason. And they are still not registered there.

In Rindolf, I chose "Other" as the license of the project and specified it would be the "Open Publication License". At the moment, I'm only designing the SPECs of the language, and do not actually produce a line of code. They rejected it. Then I decided to choose MIT X11, and referred them to the ad-hoc SPEC of the language. Then, they said that it was not clear what is the license of the SPEC, and asked me to re-submit the project.

I told them the license of the SPEC was the OPL, and that anyhow, it would not imply anything about the licesne the codebase would be distributed in. (for instance, gcc is an implementation of C the text of whose standard is proprietary). Then they said, that Savannah is ment to host free software and free documentation. Does this mean I'll have to maintain pure free content on the site?

I eventually stopped working on Rindolf for a while, and independently coded a program to solve some types of logic mazes which I now dubb lm-solve. So far, so good, but I decided that I want it to have a public source control repository. So I turned to Savannah again. I chose other and specified that the license is Public Domain.

This time they complained that there the terms were not specified in the package (they were not documented there, true), and that I should have a COPYING file. I wrote something which said it was public domain but also said that the disclaimer of the X11 license applies to the package (until it gains a different license). And I re- submitted the project again. This time they:

  1. Complained that it was not clear what license it is.

  2. Specified that every source file should have a legalese header specifiying the license and the disclaimer.

  3. Criticized me for mocking the GPL in the COPYING file. (it did start with "Relax! This is not the GPL but rather is a Public Domain software...".)

This started a relatively good natured argument between me and the Savannah Hackers. I said that I was allowed to parody the GPL in my COPYING file, without them being concerned by it. They thought it was in the project submission for some reason. (I'm not responsible for them actually opening the package). I also said, that one does not have to specify the copyright (or in my case lack of) in every file and that I usually like to put something a bit less intimidating in the header. They did not like this idea so much because they said it may complicate things legally.

If I have to take all this crap just to register a project, I'd hate to think what I'll have to put up with as the projects' progress. I talked to an E-correspondant of mine, and he said that he encountered similar paranoia from other FSF activists. Meanwhile, I'll probably turn to ibiblio, or some other service out there. Maybe I can get perl.org to host me. I also seem to found CVS quite limiting, and would probably register the project in BitKeeper which AFAIK is pretty much straightforward. I'm not really a free software bigot, and BitKeeper is open-source "enough" for most needs.

Strangely enough, I read in LWN, that they plan that the service would be a starting point for a distributed SourceForge-like service hosting many projects world-wide. If they actually want it to happen they should first lose a small amount of their paranoia, and actually trust the hackers that would like to use the service. Registering a project in SF or BerliOS is straightforward even if you don't have any intention to actively pursue it. I realize they don't want to be bother by "dead on arrival" projects and actually make sure the project is usable to them. But if a hacker sais the project is PD/MIT X11/GPL/LGPL/GPL and Modified Artistic, etc. they should give him a break, tell him to include a COPYING file that says so, accept his project and let him start doing actually useful with Savannah.

Most hackers out there are not lawyers and wish to write code or documentation rather than make sure their project is a perfectly sound legally. (which from my understanding of the legal system and the intellectual property law is pretty much impossible). Maybe the Savannah admins have good intentions, but if a project wishes to be successful it needs a large amount of good human engineering, too.

I believe the reason Freecell Solver has had its niche, and gained some popularity is not only because I invested a lot of time in coding it, but was also a good human engineer: I answered E-mails, even very trivial, politely and informatively; I formed a mailing list, and actively helped people who reviewed the code, or wished to integrate it into their projects; and I actively thought of what the end user would like to find there. I think Savannah should follow suit, and actually trust their hackers for a change.

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