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Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?

From: Jonathan S. Shapiro
Subject: Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 2020 12:41:42 -0700


I'm reluctant to say this, because I know several of the people who have put a lot of their heart and soul into the Hurd over many, many years.

The fundamental problem with the Hurd is the same as it has always been: it is a solution looking for a problem. Hurd advocates have not been able to clearly articulate what problem is being solved and why it is a problem that users should care about or be concerned about. This has been the state of the Hurd for 30 years. I am reluctant to say something so discouraging, but when a project has not moved forward substantially in 30 years it is probably time to devote your very real and talented energy to something that will actually have an impact in the world.

We went through this at Xanadu, and it definitely wasn't an easy thing to admit to ourselves or to act on. It helped, in our case, that we were able to sell off the intellectual property assets that we had developed. Nonetheless, the people who had put so much work and so much commitment into the project were both sad and angry to see it end. Some of the old guard went and formed a new, open source project to try to carry the work forward (which was a surprise, because Ted isn't exactly a fan of open source). Though the participants remain enthusiastic, that project has made no substantive progress since the 1980s.

At one time, Xanadu and the Dynabook were referred to as "Platinum Vaporware." Both ended up having significant impact. The Dynabook by inspiring the current generation of tablet devices, and Xanadu through Tim Berners-Lee, whose decision to drip transclusion and charging/payment structures resulted in what we now know as the World Wide Web. I think it isn't clear yet what the Hurd alumni will build from their experience, but some of them have certainly done interesting things on other projects.

I'm not trying to make any comment here about technical merit. I'm only trying to suggest that it may be time to step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what the best way is for you to have an impact on the world. If it is Hurd, great. If it is not, figure out what it is and go do that.


Jonathan Shapiro

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