The future of SME Server
Future of SME Server
A Community Discussion
A document to discuss potential management and roadmap at SME
First, in case you wondered, a bit about me. My name is John Crisp, I am 50 (dammit, I hate that number), British with a very sick sense of humour, but live in Spain where my wife (The boss both literally and metaphorically) and I run a small business back in the UK.
I'm a jack of all trades and master of none. I am not a computer professional, though I have been using computers one way or another for over 30 years. I run the IT for our little company, and the reason for my interest and involvement with SME is down to the use of SME servers in the business, and for friends, for around 10 years. I am not a developer. Just a tinkerer really.
SME has been the bedrock of our business and I have, over the years, tried to put something back in to the community. Now seems the time to put a bit more back.
I never intended to be the instigator of current events. Things seem to have fallen on my shoulders by chance rather than by design. People said 'just do something'. So I decided I would try. I don't have all the answers. The future is not my decision, but those of the community. I see myself currently as a conduit and driver of these ideas. I am not here to make any decisions, but to try and get a consensus and put it in motion, to harness the potential that is here, and try to make it work. I have no axes to grind with anyone. I speak as I find, and may occasionally be blunt, but intend no one any malice.
As many are well aware, SME is in potential turmoil at present. The decision by Filippo Carletti to effectively fork SME has had huge implications for this community.
Since the attempt at forming some sort of management failed in 2009, the distro has effectively been leaderless. Getting SME V8 out of the door was a massive task, and an even bigger achievement. The work of numerous people made this happen, and everyone of them should be congratulated on such a fantastic job.
V8 was a target, and with it the community, as it was, had a focus. That drove the development. But at that point, the roadmap ended. Filippo decided that he could see no future in the project and decided to take the matter in to his own hands.
With any project or business there has to be two core elements. A roadmap or plan, and leadership and management to see that the plan is carried out. Boring stuff, but completely necessary. Filippos decision was born out of necessity. He made some plans and has the organisation to carry them out.
Management, and plans. The two are inextricably linked. One cannot function without the other. A symbiotic relationship.
At the moment SME has neither. If we want to move SME forward we have therefore got to build both of these at the same time.
First, a plan.
I have been trying to canvas opinion from users on the mailing lists and via IRC. I have also received personal emails as well.
I have had mainly good comments, but some criticising the project for having no leadership or direction. I have been a bit short with those who criticised, and want a lot, but have done nothing themselves to help. “I'm too busy selling SME servers to do anything to help” has gotten short shrift. Although not a massive sample, the general consensus seems to be as follows :
Move the current base to CentOS 6 asap
This is to allow installation on newer hardware, allow easier installation of other applications with less interference of the existing subsystem. CentOS 5 is already getting on. Users want to keep abreast of newer technologies. The pace of change is fast. We may not all like it, but we cannot change it. We have to make some sort of attempt to keep there or thereabouts. Users and developers want the knowledge that the platform will be current and supported to allow them time to develop applications for it.
Current status : People are already working on porting SME to CentOS 6. It has been referred to as SME Server v9. SME v8 to be maintained for the foreseeable future, but the focus of development and effort will be on the new system to try and get it out as soon as possible.
The current consensus is that though there are plenty of things that we would like to be added to v9 the best thing is to get it out of the door, and then develop new ideas for a v9.1 e.g. LDAP, SAMBA, VPS etc.
Need to increase funding
Site costs - all donations go there today, and it is not enough. Shad has been open and provided what numbers he can.
- Development money for Charlie and Shad
- If we generate funds then there will be a need to account for them and means accountants and lawyers
Traditionally SME has been developer led, but it also needs a firm financial footing to help fund current and future costs. No money, no honey as they say.
Current status : Shad has already reported that average income is only a couple of hundred dollars a month and that just about meets his hosting costs.
There are suggestions on how to monetise SME whilst still retaining its Open Source tradition. The first thing that springs to mind is some form of advertising on the web site. The current site, though a great resource for SME, does not really sell the product. In the first instance it looks old, and there is a lot of material that is very old and needs bringing up to date – there is work on going already in that department.
There are a number of people looking at ideas on how to get greater visibility, more users, and attract potential sponsors or advertisers. We need to have a product in which people see a future, and a concept they can buy in to.
There is a small group looking at the whole marketing aspect of SME including redevelopment of the front page. A variety of suggestions is being looked at, including :
- Should we rebrand or just redefine SME in the market place ?
- Revitalize/redesign the website
- Make it sexy
- Look at (appropriate) advertising
- Would we use a CMS or do a ground up design ?
- If CMS the which one (So many to choose from)
- Run a contest on Contribs asking for ideas for an updated SME brand ?
Other suggestions include asking for specific donations of hardware, or assistance with media, marketing, website design, finance and law.
It is excellent to have the the knowledge that we have “A Linux server OS that's had 11 years to improve” but to sell it, the marketing needs to reverse that and say something like “We have a great new product in development backed by 11 years experience.” We need some positive 'spin' on things, some publicity, and need to attract some attention.
Love it or loath it, Social Media is in. We don't all have to embrace it, but we DO need to use it to get the message out there.
Raising income levels is a major task, and very important. How we do it is an area we need to discuss further.
SMEs greatest feature, and its greatest downfall, is its simplicity. It tends to attract less technical users who do not feel able to help with coding or more technical matters.
Current status : Dire. We are very low on manpower, and people have been drifting away as they have felt the project had no future. We have to reverse this.
We have to convert the 'I can't help' mentality by asking different questions. There are dozens of different people out there and they can all bring something to the party. Having chatted with quite a few, you often find that they either just need some encouragement and a a bit of confidence, or that they have other skills that are useful.
This needs developing and working on. Motivation isn’t rocket science. We need to offer positive support to newcomers. They need some handholding and encouragement. We have to allow for their inexperience. We were all beginners once upon a time...... some of us still are !!!!!
Another thought was schools/ universities – trying to get younger people involved in the project. After all, they are the future. I'm sure there are plenty of other avenues that can be looked at.
The upshot is we need to convert more users to helpers. With discussions and development of v9, and subsequent chats in IRC, we already have a number of new faces. This needs to be worked on by everyone, all the time.
We also needs a project that has a future and that will attract new developers
Need for some form of organisation
Whether we like it or not, we need to have some form of organisation. Without it the project will be like a headless chicken.
Currently SME is not big enough to support a massive management structure.
In discussions it seems that a simple structure similar to the following would be a reasonable path to take :
- Bugs & maintenance
- Contributed packages (current and old/ unmaintained)
- Wiki & Docs
- Media / Marketing
- Finance & Legal
We have a number of people who have indicated they will assist. The list is by no means exhaustive and I have missed people off – I still can't always remember peoples names coupled with email addresses and IRC nicks ! If I have missed you, please add yourself, or contact anyone here and they will help.
Current top of the pile, but a position open to discussion : John Crisp
Ian Wells is currently leading the charge in this area. He would like more developers and more testers to help verify.
- Ian Wells
- Charlie Brady
- Shad Lords
- Greg Zartman
- Daniel Berteaud
- John Crisp
- jester ??
- Huib de Visser
- Terry Fage
- Jim McLaren
Bugs and maintenance
Current SME v8 mainline packages
Developers as above
Package maintainers (could do with some feedback in this area !)
- Brian Read (mailstats package)
- Jean-Philippe PIALASSE
Wiki & Docs
- Terry Fage
- Stéphane de Labrusse
- Brian Read
- Terry Fage
- Stéphane de Labrusse
I do not yet know who the moderators are but I would be grateful if someone could put their names here ! Forums give a great opportunity to try and get users to assist more with the project. If they are stuck, after possibly browsing some documentation, it is the next place they will look. We need to be pro active in trying to support them, and getting them to support us.
Bearing in mind many don’t know much about, or don’t want to use mailing lists in the first instance, it is a good place to announce things and keep people up to date as well.
Media, Marketing, Legal & Finance
- John Crisp
- Greg Zartman
- Tony Keane
Ultimately we have a loyal and dedicated following and some fantastic knowledge and experience. SME is fundamentally a great distro that has kind of lost itself in cyberspace. We need to find it, put it’s feet back on the ground and set it running. Harness the good stuff, make it work.
It won’t be easy. It may need some radical thinking.
But *I* believe it IS possible.
The rest is up to the community. If they want it to work it will, but the community need to get together and work as one.
There is no point in saying in 2 years time ‘oh I wish I had done something to help’
Now is the time. Whatever your level, whatever your skill, you can make a contribution. Ask, and we’ll find you something to do !
To coin that old phrase :
Don’t ask your distro what it can do for you. Ask what you can do for your distro :-)
Google Docs version of this page
Please follow up this post on the Discussion mailing list :
You can join all the lists here: Contribs.org - Mailman.
This is the official place for discussion on the future of SME.
For more General Chat please visit the Contribs.org - Forums or there is a also a IRC channel where people who are interested in this effort 'hang out'. You're most welcome to drop by and/or join. It's free! ;-)
You do not have to install anything to pay the channel a visit. All you need is a nice nickname and right click Freenode.net - SME_server to open the channel in a new browser window or tab.