Zonbu & Developers: A mis-match in the model?

DeWalt Cordless DrillI’ve been struggling with the Zonbu concept of a “community edition” or “developer edition”.

Typically, the community that forms around an open source product has a vested interest in embracing and extending the product. They are users of the product. The improvements they contribute benefit all parties and are generally shared back with all parties.

In the case of the Zonbu, where the intention is to present a very consistent, proven and “locked down” desktop experience to the end user, I’m not sure how much enthusiasm there really is for the traditional kind of open source community involvement…

Are developers welcome or not?

In most open source project communities, the developer edition is the latest version, complete with bugs, surprises and the potential that the build will be broken.

Developers download, modify and resubmit their code for peer review and comment before it is merged back in to the developer repository. Ultimately an official release is issued based on a frozen version of the developer tree.

With Zonbu, I’m confused about how this is supposed to work. Since you don’t get all the latest and greatest updates unless you subscribe to the service, how are you supposed to develop for it?

If you download the “community edition” and then are not given access to the patches and updates, you will be using a legacy branch of the code.

How do you know your efforts aren’t replicating work that has already been done?

How do you know changes haven’t been made in the main tree that will materially effect your code?

An olive branch? Psych!

I’m not a developer, but if I was, I would not be motivated to engage with the “Zonbu Community”. I think I’d be much more likely to contribute to the open lightweight desktop initiatives Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux.

With Zonbu, it appears that I would not be working with the latest code, or have any reason to believe the work I do will necessarily make it in to the finished product – I think I would find it difficult to feel like my potential contributions mattered.

I think Zonbu may, perhaps without realizing it, be extending an olive branch to the open source community and then effectively snatching it back by requiring developers to have a subscription to the Zonbu service.

Significant clarification of the official Zonbu position, as well as better documentation and tools being made availbale are necessary if the company genuinely wants developer involvement.

Is direct developer involvement necessary?

And who knows? Maybe they don’t envision that being important.

Maybe it would be more effective to actively fund and contribute to the existing projects that the Zonbu combines to create the stack.

In a way, I think Zonbu is blazing a bit of a trail with a new twist on how to deploy and benefit from open source software. I like the model, but when ever a trail is blazed, someone takes arrows in their back for the first little while.


No doubt this particular topic will elicit some strong feedback from traditional F/OSS developers, and it should.

Something doesn’t seem right to me, and my “spidey senses” have a pretty good track record. I don’t know the answers, but the questions need to be asked.

-Mr. Zonbu


5 Responses to Zonbu & Developers: A mis-match in the model?

  1. Gregg says:

    I’m thinking that Zonbu is required by the GPL to release the full source code for a every new version including all new updates and patches for the Zonbu OS with every new release number. In the same way that the CentOS community repackages every new Redhat Enterprise Linux release and strips out all the Redhat trademark branding, and quickly releases the new CentOS, the same thing can be done with Zonbu. I’m wondering if Zonbu is aware that they are required to continually make available all the new source code for all their new releases for anyone to download and compile?

  2. Gregg says:

    Well. It seems they do have a page for their patches, but they are very out of date. April 23 was lates patch made available…


  3. Gregg says:

    I’m no expert, but being this untimely with making available your code changes, seems to me to be a clear violation of the GPL.

  4. Dave says:

    It seems Zonbu still has a long way to go before it really is what they want it to be.. Did they rush out the product too fast, or is this just plain ol’ bad planning/thinking?

  5. mrzonbu says:

    I don’t think they rushed it, but I do think they’re about a quarter too early for its intended target audience given what I’m finding. The last 15% of any release is always the hardest.

    I’ve long held that Christmas 2007/new years 2008 will be a critical inflection point for desktop Linux.

    I think with some intensive field trials and testing, and aggressive bug-hunting and polish, the Zonbu would be ready to be under a LOT of trees this holiday season. I also think the underlying package maturity will have improved for most major components as well, which helps across the board.

    None of the problems I’ve run in to are insurmountable or complete show stoppers, but they all require attention and resources to address. If the focus is made and the effort is put in, I think Zonbu will have a magical product ready for the mass market by year end.

    Even in its current state, a lot of people would find it quite usable day-to-day and anyone who doesn’t mind being an early adopter should test-drive one.

    The updates roll out automatically, so it should get better every few weeks, as they continue polishing the desktop.

    I’ll keep plugging away and let you know if I hit any major obstacles.

    -Mr. Zonbu

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