It's not uncommon for open source projects -- especially those without strict commercial oversight -- to treat deadlines loosely. It's rarer for them to admit publicly when they face structural problems and need to consider new directions. Yet that's what openSUSE developers did a few days ago when they announced delays in the 12.2 release. I recently spoke to Jos Poortvliet, openSUSE community manager, about this fork in the road. Here's what he had to say.

Plenty of open source developers miss deadlines all the time, of course. The Debian distribution, for instance, sometimes delays new releases for years, a trend that has helped it win a reputation for rock-hard stability -- at the expense of offering the most up-to-date software stack.

But for openSUSE, the recent delay in the debut of version 12.2 is about more than simply pushing back a deadline. In Poortvliet's words, the announcement, and other recent difficulties, are a signal that "we need to re-think how we’re working."

Too Much Software, Too Little Time

Poortvliet's blog post outlines the basic issues currently facing openSUSE and plans for addressing them. But when I spoke to Poortvliet, I was interested in learning more about his perception of the specific nature of the problem. And although I expected him to complain simply about lack of community support and volunteers -- a constant lament from many open source developers -- his explanation of openSUSE's current troubles was more nuanced.

The issue, in his estimation, is that there's too much activity in the open source world -- or, at least, more of it than the openSUSE development community is currently designed to handle. "Basically," he said, "the problem is there are too many contributors, too many people currently submitting packages."

For other Linux distributions with a more rigid bureaucracy in place for building and reviewing packages, that abundance of software might not pose such a problem. But at openSUSE, Poortvliet noted, "we don't like bureaucracy," so the human resources haven't always been available for handling the influx of packages, which have grown quantitatively by between 20 percent and 30 percent each year for the last two years.

That's all understandable, and the suggestions thus far from openSUSE community members for restructuring the project in a way that will position it to deal more effectively with upstream contributions seem like they should be effective. I'll look forward to seeing what the final plan ends up being.

Checking the Open Source Pulse

But for now, what is worth observing about the openSUSE announcement is that while it might appear on the surface to signal trouble within the open source world, the reality actually seems to be quite the opposite. OpenSUSE's difficulties don't stem from a lack of activity in the open source ecosystem as a whole or from poor enthusiasm for Linux, but rather from the fact that the last couple years have witnessed an abundance of growth in open source development that openSUSE's structures simply couldn't handle.

So lest anyone predict the imminent demise of a cornerstone Linux distribution, or of Linux more generally, let's emphasize that the opposite is true: Open source remains alive and well, and openSUSE just needs some readjusting to handle the channel's new realities.