Linux Mint 19.2 'Tina' is on the way, but the developers seem defeated and depressed

I have been a bit critical of Linux Mint in the past, but the truth is, it is a great distribution that many people enjoy. While Mint is not my favorite desktop distro (that would be Fedora), I recognize its quality. Is it perfect? No, there is no such thing as a flawless Linux-based operating system.

Today should be happy times for the Linux Mint community, as we finally learn some new details about the upcoming version 19.2! It will be based on Ubuntu 18.04 and once again feature three desktop environments -- Xfce, Mate, and Cinnamon. We even found out the code name for Linux Mint 19.2 -- "Tina." And yet, it is hard to celebrate. Why? Because the developers seem to be depressed and defeated. They even appear to be a bit disenchanted with Free Software development overall.

Clement Lefebvre, leader of the Linux Mint project, shared a very lengthy blog post today, and it really made me sad. You can read part of it below. And no, this sad tone is not an April Fool's prank, sadly.

It’s not always easy to achieve what we want, sometimes it’s not even easy to define what we want to achieve. We can have doubts, we can work really hard on something for a while and then question it so much, we’re not even sure we’ll ship it. We can get demotivated, uncertain, depressed even by negative reactions or interactions, and it can lead to developers stepping away from the project, taking a break or even leaving for good. And then sometimes simply seeing people enjoy what we did can boost an entire team, whether it’s seeing happiness in an email/comment or getting a feeling of satisfaction after a constructive interaction which leads to a fix or an implementation.

I personally haven’t enjoyed this development cycle so far. 2 of our most talented developers have been away. Boosting performance in the Muffin window manager hasn’t been, and still isn’t, straight forward. Feedback on the new website and logo brought a huge amount of incertitude. We’ll still have a great release in the end and we’ll still achieve plenty of improvements (we did already to a certain extent), but we need to be strong and remain confident and it’s not easy when so much time is invested into something and then a month later it’s not ready, or it causes other issues, or it might please some people but not others.

Lefebvre continues...

For a team to work, developers need to feel like heroes. They want the same things as users, they are users, they were “only” users to start with. At some stage they decide to get involved and they start investing time, efforts and emotions into improving our project. What they’re looking for the most is support and happiness. They need feedback and information to understand bugs or feature requests and when they’re done implementing something, they need to feel like heroes, they literally do, that’s part of the reason they’re here really.

I can show them 500 people donated money last month, I can forward emails to the team where people tell me how much they love Linux Mint, I can tell them they’re making a difference but there’s nothing like interacting directly with a happy user, seeing first-hand somebody be delighted with what you worked on. How our community interacts with our developers is key, to their work, to their happiness and to their motivation.

Clem quite literally says he is not enjoying the Linux Mint development nowadays, which really breaks my heart. Look, developing a free operating system and largely depending on donations to keep the project going is obviously stressful -- I imagine it is hard to ever feel truly secure. With that said, once you lose your passion and joy, there is the possibility the project could suffer.

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He also expresses surprise and sadness at all the negativity surrounding the upcoming website and logo redesigns. I thought the redesigns were very boring and uninspired, and I was vocal about that. Now I feel awful about contributing to the development team’s feelings of gloom -- my opinions were sincere, however.

Even worse, Clem shares that there is some tension between the team members, particularly regarding Cinnamon and its Muffin window manager. He provides the following details.

It’s all about Muffin at the moment. We’re trying to make it smoother, to make the windows feel lighter… radical changes and refactoring occurred, it’s eating a lot of time and we’re chasing regressions left, right and center. This is documented at https://github.com/linuxmint/cinnamon/issues/8454. It’s a really tough exercise, it creates tensions within the team but the potential is there, if we can make our WM snappier it’s worth the hassle.

Do I think the Linux Mint operating system is in trouble? No, that would be way premature. Still, I am worried that this very public display could be foreshadowing some negativity and roadbumps in the future. I hope I am wrong, as it would be a sad world without Linux Mint.

So, what can be done? Well, if you love Linux Mint and you want the developers to be satisfied and joyful, why not make a donation? You can do so in many ways here. Even if you don't use Linux Mint, you should donate to show support for both the Linux and Open Source communities. You can send the message that Free Software development has a bright future.

Money aside, I urge you to also Tweet to the Linux Mint team here. Tell them how much they mean to you, and how the operating system improves your life. Make them feel like heroes.

[UPDATE 4/2/2019] Unfortunately, it seems my concerns about the Linux Mint developers were quite correct. On Reddit, in response to this very article, Jason Hicks (jaszhix), Muffin maintainer and member of the Linux Mint team, says the following.

I'll just say this much as far as Muffin is concerned, I'm the main maintainer of it this cycle. People are testing it. Major refactoring occurred. Windows you can't see no longer sit in the background wasting CPU time in the compositor, painting. A lot of mutter commits refactored in, and a lot of my own. The code changed is a lot, so it's expected for there to be some regressions.

I also have a life outside open source work, too. It's not mentally sound to put the hours I've put into the compositor. I was only able to do what I could because I was unemployed in January. Now I'm working a job full time, and trying to keep up with bug fixes. I've been spending every night and weekend, basically every spare moment of my free time trying to fix things.

There's also been tension because we're 1-2 months from a release. We've had contentious debate about input latency, effects of certain patches, and ways to measure all of this. Other team members are going through their own equally hard circumstances, and it's an unfortunate amount of stress to occur all at once at the wrong times. We're human at the end of the day. I wish these aspects didn't leak into the blog post so much, so just wanted to vent and provide some context. If you take away anything from it, please try the PPA and report bugs. We need people looking for things that might get stuck in cinnamon 4.2.

Yikes. This is not a happy developer. To make things even worse, Hicks is apparently embarrassed by the official Linux Mint blog post! Another Reddit member named tuxkrusader responds to Hicks by saying "I'm slightly concerned that you're not a member of the linuxmint group on github anymore. I hope you're not on bad terms with the project." Hicks shockingly responds by saying "Nope, I hid my project affiliation because that blog post makes me look bad."

Wow. Hiding his affiliation with the Linux Mint project on GitHub?  It seems things may be worse than I originally thought...

Photo Credit: Sam WordleShutterstock

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