PINE64 has let its community down August 18, 2022 on Drew DeVault's blog

Context for this post:

I know that apologising and taking responsibility for your mistakes is difficult. It seems especially difficult for commercial endeavours, which have fostered a culture of cold disassociation from responsibility for their actions, where admitting to wrongdoing is absolutely off the table. I disagree with this culture, but I understand where it comes from, and I can empathise with those who find themselves in the position of having to reconsider their actions in the light of the harm they have done. It’s not easy.

But, the reckoning must come. I have been a long-time supporter of PINE64. On this blog I have written positively about the PinePhone and PineBook Pro.1 I believed that PINE64 was doing the right thing and was offering something truly revolutionary on the path towards getting real FOSS systems into phones. I use a PinePhone as my daily driver,2 and I also own a PineBook Pro, two RockPro64s, a PinePhone Pro, and a PineNote as well. All of these devices have issues, some of them crippling, but PINE64’s community model convinced me to buy these with confidence in the knowledge that they would be able to work with the community to address these flaws given time.

However, PINE64’s treatment of its community has been in a steady decline for the past year or two, culminating in postmarketOS developer Martijn Braam’s blog post outlining a stressful and frustrating community to participate in, a lack of respect from PINE64 towards this community, and a model moving from a diverse culture that builds working software together to a Manjaro mono-culture that doesn’t. PINE64 offered a disappointing response. In their blog post, they dismiss the problems Martijn brings up, paint his post as misguided at best and disingenuous at worst, and fail to take responsibility for their role in any of these problems.

The future of PINE64’s Manjaro mono-culture is dim. Manjaro is a very poorly run Linux distribution with a history of financial mismanagement, ethical violations, security incidents, shipping broken software, and disregarding the input of its peers in the distribution community. Just this morning they allowed their SSL certificates to expire — for the fourth time. An open letter, signed jointly by 16 members of the Linux mobile community, called out bad behaviors which are largely attributable to Manjaro. I do not respect their privileged position in the PINE64 community, which I do not expect to be constructive or in my best interests. I have never been interested in running Manjaro on a PINE64 device and once they turn their back on the lush ecosystem they promised, I no longer have any interest in the platform.

It’s time for PINE64 to take responsibility for these mistakes, and make clear plans to correct them. To be specific:

I understand that it’s difficult to acknowledge our mistakes. But it is also necessary, and important for the future of PINE64 and the future of mobile Linux in general. I call on TL Lim, Marek Kraus, and Lukasz Erecinski to personally answer for these problems.

There are three possible outcomes to this controversy, depending on PINE64’s response. If PINE64 refuses to change course, the community will continue to decay and fail — the community PINE64 depends on to make its devices functional and useful. Even the most mature PINE64 products still need a lot of work, and none of the new products are even remotely usable. This course of events will be the end of PINE64 and deal a terrible blow to the mobile FOSS movement.

The other option for PINE64 to change its behavior. They do this with grace, or without. If they crumble under public pressure and, for example, spitefully agree to re-instate community editions without accepting responsibility for their wrongdoings, it does not bode well for addressing the toxic environment which is festering in the PINE64 community. This may be better than the worst case, but may not be enough. New community members may hesitate to join, maligned members may not offer their forgiveness, and PINE64’s reputation will suffer for a long time.

The last option is for PINE64 to act with grace and humility. Acknowledge your mistakes and apologise to those who have been hurt. Re-commit to honoring your community and treating your peers with respect. Remember, the community are volunteers. They have no obligation to make peace, so it’s on you to mend these wounds. It will still be difficult to move forward, but doing it with humility, hand in hand with the community, will set PINE64 up with the best chance of success. We’re counting on you to do the right thing.

  1. The latter post, dated in May 2021, also mentions the u-Boot SPI issue that PINE64’s push-back on ultimately led Martijn to quit the PINE64 community. PINE64’s justification is “based on the fact that for years SPI was largely unused on PINE64 devices”, but people have been arguing that SPI should be used for years, too. ↩︎

  2. Though it has and has always had serious issues that would prevent me from recommending it to others. It still needs work. ↩︎

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