The Downside Of Contributions

The prolific Jeff Atwood has a blog post entitled Don’t Go Dark which describes the issue of programmers retreating into their chambers for months on end to create the perfect feature; at the conclusion, said programmers drop the feature on the community at large hoping for its immediate and wholesale incorporation into the project’s mainline codebase. As you can imagine, FFmpeg lends itself well to this style of lone-wolf development. Unfortunately, it also conflicts with FFmpeg’s level of code maturity which necessitates that every line of code be carefully scrutinized before it is allowed possible immortality in the mainline tree. This leads to a tremendous amount of orphaned patches. Should FFmpeg maintain such a strict policy? Personally, I agree with the project leader in his position that, if the changes are not made before inclusion, the changes will likely never be made.

There’s another angle that I don’t think was addressed by Jeff’s post. It’s a problem we saw repeatedly on the xine project. Companies who were doing things like set-top media boxes were understandably eager to incorporate xine’s superior — and fee-free – media playback architecture. Naturally, it took some… tweaking and customizations (read: ad-hoc hacks) in order to get the stuff to work just right with a specific setup, and within a deadline. When the project was complete, an engineer would drop a mega-patch with all of their changes to the xine codebase, as mandated by the GNU GPL. And it was quite useless to us.

I’m not sure what to do about the latter case. With the former, it is useful to at least anticipate developing your module in somewhat bite-sized phases that can perhaps be incorporated in separate patches.

3 thoughts on “The Downside Of Contributions

  1. Brian

    Sounds like a case for git or some sort of distributed VCS. Nothing would have to be done in isolation, and the main line of development can be shepherded by the “leader”.

  2. Peter

    Guilty as charged. The “Global War on Electronic-Arts“ continues, depsite an earlier claim of mission accomplished.

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