Gentoo's decline: A case of missing leadership (or rising Ubuntu?)

Is Gentoo's decline a question of leadership or a question of Ubuntu?

It's easy to notice when an open-source project is rocking. Downloads go up, web chatter blazes brightly, and the media swoons.

It's much harder to notice a void, but that is precisely what James Bellenger has done in his "The Decline Of Gentoo Linux" post. Gentoo used to be hot. Back in 2004 Gentoo's developer base consisted of a small but vocal crowd that touted the distribution's infinite customizability. Gentoo was the "real man's" (or woman's) Linux distribution.

A few years later, you rarely hear anyone talking about Gentoo, and developer attrition has been significant:

James Bellenger

What happened? According to Bellenger, the departure of Gentoo's project lead, Daniel Robbins, effectively killed the project:

The most interesting thing about the current state of gentoo is that it's a very clear (and well documented) example of how the success of a large open source project, regardless of the personal devotion of its user base, is tightly coupled to the strength of its leadership. Interesting also that despite the projects strong attraction of "power users", the community has been unable to convert these users into active developers.

Robbins has tried to make a come back, but to no avail.

Despite Bellenger's thesis, it's not clear that Gentoo would have had much of a chance against Ubuntu, anyway, which has consumed much of the Linux desktop attention in the past few years, as a review of Google Trends suggests:

Debian=blue; Fedora=green; Ubuntu=red; Debian=orange Google Trends

In other words, Ubuntu may be the culprit, not a lack of Gentoo leadership, though that exacerbates the matter. Looked at in that way, is Ubuntu good or bad for Linux?

If it's consuming widespread attention, it may be a good thing for Linux as it concentrates developer resources on a common distribution, one that can perhaps take on the Mac and Windows for the first time.

On the negative side, if all attention and development is focused on Ubuntu, doesn't that undermine one of the basic value premises of open source? Would a mono-culture surrounding Ubuntu be good for Linux?

I'm not sure. Your thoughts?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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