The ability to send a plain text email is not a skill people care about (mostly)

The amount of folks who are up in arms about Sarah Novotny's views on email based workflows in Linux put a smirk on my face today, but I figured I would post my own opinions, having both spent way too many hours with mutt, offlineimap, postfix, and so on. I even wrote an entire article series on this for Ars Technica that is so old I can't even find it on the web any more. And Lee Hutchinson's version is from 2014!

How can someone who is wanting to contribute to the kernel possibly not know how to send a plain text email? If you can't do that then you have no business in the kernel right?

It's not a matter of can't, it's a matter of won't. There's a reason no one writes their resumes in LaTeX either. Sure, I can do it. I figured it out, achievement unlocked.

You would be shocked at the amount of core contributors to Kubernetes that we routinely find aren't subscribed to the main mailing list. Sending git formatted patches over email, are you kidding? Most of my open source collaborators aren't even reading their emails lol.

You don't send a mail to the list to propose something, you write an enhancement proposal and if you're nice, you might mention it on a list, but all that activity happens in GitHub. And if you want a meaty discussion you hop onto Zoom and discuss it high bandwidth style with your SIG before moving on. You're not going to find lengthy discussions about technical features on many of our mailing lists, you'll find them in the GitHub issues, PR comments, and meeting transcripts.

No fair you say! There's a difference between using/consuming technical content and coordinating/running an entire project. That's the point, not any more!

Watch how Martin Wimpress does a live package update in Ubuntu MATE. That level of interaction with the audience isn't just the future of OSS development, it's the present. Our next kernel people, Debian maintainers, library maintainers, and everything inbetween are sitting in places like this and this is how they interact with themselves and their communities. There's just too much awesome shit in the world for people to slow down to figure out emails and mailman. And if you think this is just about email, wait until you see how much coordination and awesome stuff is happening in Discord. Yep, this is about IRC too, all of it.

I hear ya, I wish plaintext wasn't on the way out as a workflow, but at the end of the day, most projects aren't Linux. You can't afford an email mailing list workflow, you need to be where the developers are. New developers coming into the field are as likely to be on AOL than setting up mutt, that's just how it ended up. The distribution developers know how to do this, it's part of their job, but let's not kid ourselves, the eyeballs are not on mailing lists.

Linux is missing an entire generation of new talent due to this. I don't sweat it, Linux is fundamental technology, it'll survive just fine, but it'll continue to be a workflow that won't jive with a number of people coming into the field.

Also it's pretty evident from most Microsoft conspiracy comments that no one bothered to look up Sarah's OSS credentials, but of course, that didn't surprise you either. Her points still stand if you replace GitHub with GitLab, or whatever tool you prefer.


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