Subject: Re: the GCC steering committee
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 15 Mar 2002 00:02:56 -0800

Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com> writes:

> Back before the GCC steering committee, there was a formally neutral
> arbiter, legally bound to operate in the public interest, who decided
> questions about the evolution of the public GCC sources.

There was?  Maybe the FSF in theory was the arbiter, but not in
practice.  There was Richard Kenner, who was (and presumably is) an
employee of GNAT.  There was Richard Stallman, FSF founder and
volunteer but not employee, whose main contribution to gcc at the time
of the egcs split was to assert, despite many complaints, that Richard
Kenner was the sole maintainer and that everything had to go through
him.

> In theory,
> that's a great idea.  In practice, the arbiter was under-resourced,
> essentially run by the controversial judgment of a very small number
> of people, and put under intractable political pressure by more-monied
> commercial interests.

Here I just have no idea what you are talking about.  I can't map it
onto the reality of which I was a part.

> [...]
> 
> Where are the minutes?  The votes?  The agenda?  How can I get
> something on the agenda?  When do I get to vote for a committee
> member?  What's the protest procedure?  Where is the formal RFC/RFI
> track spelled out and how can I see the status of the currently active
> proposals?  The steering committee isn't a mature political process --
> it's almost a "star chamber"; politically, it's structure resembles
> the WTO.

Yes, except for a key difference: you can opt out.  You can fork.
That's how egcs was created: the old regime became intolerable for a
significant number of the people who cared, so a new regime was
created.  As you say, the gcc steering committee was created as a
political compromise to merge gcc and egcs back together again.

> As just a crude approximation, the SC might say: "Here we have a list
> of 500 GCC tasks that are important over the next N years [of course,
> they'd need independent funding to develop and maintain such a list].
> You can obtain the privileges of being good corporate citizen of the
> GCC world either by throwing money into the pool for these tasks, or
> by picking them off yourself at some rate related to your other code
> contributions and bug reports."  If you're one of those companies, you
> want those privileges.  If you are a customer of one of those
> companies, looking to buy some GCC custom development, you want your
> service provider to have those privileges even if it means paying a
> slight premium over the cost of your development.  It doesn't have to
> be an onerous burden -- just enough to assure steady and sufficiently
> rapid forward progress.  It helps to implement a "walled garden"
> around GCC in a legitimate way.  It helps to shift the competition
> over GCC customization from mere price competition, to a larger, more
> appropriate agenda: price balanced against stewardship.

Note that the competition over gcc customization is not currently
price competition.  Stewardship proves ability, and proven ability
permits charging higher prices.  For example, if Code Sourcery has any
sense, they stress to their customers that their employee is the
current gcc release manager.  (Their web site admittedly doesn't
appear to play it up very much, just a brief comment here:
    http://www.codesourcery.com/people/mark_mitchell
)

By the way, the list of ``gcc tasks that are important over the next N
years'' can be found here:
    http://gcc.gnu.org/projects/

> What might such privileges include?  One example is membership on a
> private mailing list on which good citizens pledge to provide mutual
> aid for whatever questions or issues come up.  (For sure, I'm no
> lawyer, and I believe such a list would have to be scrutinized against
> whatever the legal standards are for avoiding illegally
> anti-competitive corporate collusion.)

If you want this scheme to make sense, you're going to have to come up
with much better privileges than that.  The people who work on gcc
already provide mutual aid.  It makes sense for corporations to have
their employees provide mutual aid, because that helps the employees
demonstrate that they understand gcc.  Demonstrating an understanding
of a gcc is a prerequisite for getting patches accepted.  A
corporation which doesn't care about getting patches accepted also
don't care about getting on your hypothetical private mailing list.

Ian