Hassles and woes – and how to solve them

Dear Community,

the last days, we have seen long discussions, people asking about processes and directions, and the role of the Steering Committee was unclear to some Community members. I do not want to discuss the issues in detail, I even don’t want to mention them by name, but I felt it was time to bring some personal thoughts into them. The following paragraphs are just my personal thoughts and not an official statement of the Steering Committee, but I hope they help all of us to work on our common mission.

I am very proud of what we have achieved the past months. In just four months of time, we — all together, the whole Community — managed to bring up something with deep impact, something really big. One of the, I tend to say, most important and most noticed free software projects decided to become free finally. If you look at what has been achieved over the past decade — 20% market share, 100 million downloads a year, about 50 subprojects, hundreds of people with commit access to the repository — you not only see the importance of our beloved free office suite, but you also see what a monstrous task it was for all of us to stand where we stand now, to bring up similar in a shorter period of time, with less (at least financial) resources. It required a lot of courage to go this step. We all knew it wouldn’t be easy, and we all knew it would require lots of time and energy, but that every single day will be worth it.

We are nearing the final version of LibreOffice 3.3, our very first own release, we have an infrastructure in place with over 60 mirrors worldwide, dozens of mailing lists, a wiki, a blog, a planet, localized websites, translation toolkits and much more. People market, localize and test LibreOffice in uncountable languages and dialects, local teams come together, release parties are being planned, and people even join phone conferences right in the middle of the night. Even if we were a corporate sponsored project with a fully hired staff, the tasks we already managed successfully was something we could be proud of — given that most of us are volunteers, working in their free time, next to their dayjobs, having families, hobbies, a personal life and their own sorrows, this is even more impressive and makes me feel very proud of what Community power can achieve.

Yes, folks, we all do rock!

We’ve shown the world it is possible and the road ahead looks even more brilliant! However, during the last days, I heard a lot of things, and some made me really think. They made me think if the current structures are right, if we did everything right.

My conclusion: We ARE on the right path.

In a project of that size, that impact, and of that young age, it is more than normal that things don’t work perfectly all of the time, it’s normal that we can’t make everybody happy at once. Although we built on the past decade, due to new structures, changed budgets, a new branding and logo, a lot of tasks came upon us. Not only does the Community need a structure, the Foundation itself also needs bylaws, structures, governance, a business model, funding; the infrastructure needs to be set in place, the releases have to be planned, and right now I have the feeling, we could hire a whole agency just for user inquiries and press contacts, not to talk about the marketing efforts.

However, things do work out. Indeed, they do very well and even better than I ever dreamed of.

What happens just now is that things grow rapidly. People are coming up from all over the world, interested in a huge variety of topics, and they begin to work on them. Feeling that movitation, seeing that enthusiasm, really makes me believe even more that we’re on the right track. However, what is often missed is “the big picture”. As much as I appreciate people looking into various things, not everything has a high priority right now, and lots of other things should be discussed with the relevant parties first. It is not possible to set up a trademark policy aside from doing the 3.3 release aside from forming a marketing group aside from establishing the Foundation aside from talking to corporate sponsors aside from… you get the point.

It is all about communication.

We are all living in different time zones, speak different languages natively, have different availability, motivations, backgrounds. This combination brings, so to say, the best and the worst out of us that can be, because it provides a colorful variety on the one hand, but is often a reason for misunderstandings on the other hand. We are all here for the same reason. We believe in free software, open standards, and a truly free, liberated office suite. I want to call on all of you, everyone independent from their amount of contribution, from their title, role, affiliation: Let us work together, united, speak with one voice, walk together in the same direction.

In every good relationship, may it be work, love or friendship, struggles are normal. They are even vital for the success of the relationship, for making it grow, for having it work out. If everyday was sunshine, life would be boring, wouldn’t it? 🙂

I think we all made failures, and we all will make failures in the future. We are all human beings. This is no different from previous projects, not even from other areas of life, it’s just that right now, things are perceived stronger, as so much is going on in parallel. Like the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Nobody is infallible, but what everybody can do, everyone can learn is that we should communicate with each other openly, treat everyone with respect, and raise concerns when needed.

The Steering Committee is neither in place to do everything by itself, nor to intervene always with a final word. In fact, we are there to help the Community to grow, to be there when help and guidance is needed, and of course for lots of daily routine tasks. For us, and I convey no secret in saying this, this is also a new role. No one of us ever has been part of the Steering Committee of such a big free software project. And I’m pretty sure there is no book where you can read how it works. We are all humans, but we all have good intentions, and we work hard day by day to keep things going.

I myself for sure also have made mistakes. Sometimes, it is really hard to see everything, to even prioritize things, when the phone rings a dozen times a day, you have hundreds to thousands of e-mails per week, plus your family wants to spend time with you, and hey, somehow you also need to earn your bread for the next day. Not to forget that doctors say some sleep at night can be considered quite healthy. 😉 I am sure, for other active people, this is similar. So, if we overlook things, don’t manage to reply in time, or simply have a different perception of things and importance than others have, this is normal as well, and no sign of bad intentions. Different people see things in different lights, and as I have said on the mailing lists a few days ago, there mostly is not only one side to blame, but both sides contribute to what happens.

We have one mission, one goal. We can achieve it. Together. United.

Everyone in The Document Foundation and in the LibreOffice Community is open, is happy to answer questions, is willing to accept criticism as long as it is constructive, and we learn day by day to make things better. We never would have gone that way if it wasn’t about the Community, so I beg your trust in what we do, while at the same time I ask for open comments and feedback when you feel things are going wrong. And I do ask you for patience, as things need their time.

Join us in our efforts. All we do is for our common goal, for our Community, for a truly free and liberated office suite. The better we work together, the more we talk, the stronger our Community will grow.

I am happy to take that challenge. Are you, too? 😉


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