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Compiz and Beryl Merger

It isn’t official yet, but Compiz and Beryl are merging. For the last few weeks I have been following the mailing list discussions on this topic. A lot of the work has been started. It is sort of unofficially announced, so I feel now is as good a time as any to comment. First some back story:

The war between Compiz and Beryl has been entertaining if counterproductive. Originally I planned to interview Quinn (Beryl’s unofficial leader) about the Beryl project. That turned into an interview with the team that never really got anywhere. I dropped the ball. My feelings at the time were typical of those in the community. Beryl seemed to be this fantastic project that saved Compiz from being boring and a slave to Novell. They launched a beautiful website. It was exciting to see the frequency of their releases. At the time, I decided to check out Compiz to see what it was up to. It was surprising. Their forums were very helpful and positive. The more I read, the more I realized that I had made a mistake. There was more to the story than I was aware.

The communities were getting along a lot worse than I had realized. People in the Beryl camp dismissed David Reveman (creator of Compiz and XGL among other things) as a bad coder. Compiz dismissed Beryl as hacky code. Personal attacks flew around. Through decisions made with (hopefully) good intentions, like the insistence that Beryl code be GPL (thus unable to move upstream to the MIT licensed Compiz core) or the desire on some Beryl developers part to rip apart the Compiz core and ” improve” it, it looked as if the teams were hopelessly split.

Meanwhile, Beryl continued to grow. Resentment grew in the Compiz community. One estimate was that Beryl used 95% Compiz code while taking all the credit. YouTube filled up with tons of spinning transparent cubes and burning windows. Any Digg story mentioning Beryl received a lot of Diggs. Flamewars in comment sections broke out regularly. Things reached a low point when a frustrated Compiz community member hacked the Beryl site.

This state of affairs was a shame. Something that was finally getting the general public excited about Linux, the 3D desktop, was wasting time with duplication of effort and fighting. There were concerns about the long term viability of Beryl. The perception in the community overall was, Compiz = old and stale, Beryl = fresh and exciting. This despite the feeling in the Compiz community that the “real work” was being done by David Reveman and Compiz, and there were exciting things with Compiz core (like input redirection, etc…) on the horizon.

It was a pleasant surprise to see talks of a merge start to show up on the mailing lists. This article by Kristian Hogsberg seemed to kick it off. The talks so far have been bumpy. There are fights about whether to rename the communities. There are heated discussions about what the merger means and where things should go from here. Old wounds have been reopened. There are complaints about the egos of the developers in the forums. At one point, reading a twenty-four page forum discussion, I wondered if the merge was a good idea after all. Little by little things seem to be working out, though. Quinn mentioned in one forum post that the fork was a mistake and regrettable. It takes a big person to make an admission like that.

I have to hand it to both communities. This is a brave and bold step. Not many of us can check our egos, put hurt feelings aside and move forward. The road ahead won’t be easy, but the benefit to the Linux community will be immense. Energy won’t be wasted on fights and duplication of effort. Confusion over what to use will be eliminated. Hopefully more effort can be spent by the distributions on getting the combined product packaged properly (How many times can I install a distro and the 3d desktop only to have no window borders in KDE?). The discussions I read are passionate. It looks like the project will be a meritocracy, which works the best in Free Software. My take is that at this point, it is best for both teams to focus on the code and technical details, trust each other and then make decisions on what to name it down the road. It seems early to deal with emotional things like what to name it. As everyone gets used to working together, tough decisions like that should come easily. Trust and respect will be established and the name calling will cease.

I don’t want to be over dramatic, but this could not have come at a better time. The 3d desktop is the first thing to grab the general public’s imagination and push people into trying out Linux. Compiz and Beryl provide an experience you really can’t get on Windows or Mac. There is an exciting Wild West feel to the projects. As things mature, this will be what brings Linux to the mainstream. The passion everyone involved feels may look like a negative. It is the project’s greatest strength.