How Google broke the OSS compact with Angular 2.0 | John V. Petersen


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When I first wrote the title, I had to pause for a moment to consider if I was actually writing this post or if it was a bad dream. As it turns out, at least from my vantage point, what I’ve seen thus far, which candidly isn’t that much, has been much like a bad dream. For purposes of this post, what matters more is what we know we haven’t seen. Nonetheless, I have seen enough to make a few conclusions I’ll express here.

It’s helpful to start with some defined terms and a framework that I can use as a backdrop to support my argument. In this case, I’m relying on the classic OSS development model described by Eric Raymond in his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar. I won’t go into all of the model’s facets save one: That all users should be treated as co-developers. The over-arching theme of OSS is one of transparency and at least get as close as possible, to true democratization.

In reality though,democratization is often preached by the same people that just as often don’t practice it. I won’t delve into motive or intent. Rather, I’ll simply rely on what I’ve seen and observed as an outsider looking at the building that has its curtains drawn – trying to get a glimpse of what is going on inside. Is it my or any of our business? You bet it is as collectively, we are part of a large community that is responsible for Angular’s success. We are impacted by decisions being made in the dark.

Looking at Angular 1.x, it has quickly become one of, if not the most popular MV* web development frameworks today. There is a robust community and at last count, has over 1000 contributors. All one has to do is navigate to to see how robust and vibrant the community is.By all accounts, the Angular Team appreciates this community through the comments expressed at the 2014 ng-Europe Conference. In this day and age, words don’t mean nearly as much as actions. I’m a member of that ever-growing legion of people that judges by what is done, not what is said.

There is no doubt the external community (those outside Google) is the reason why Angular has been so successful. It’s common sense after all. Without broad uptake and support, an OSS Project may be many things, but a success won’t be one of them, unless of course, the goal was for the software to only be used by a few people.

Today, the world is abuzz with mentions of Angular 2.0. Here and there are mentions and perhaps the briefest of glimpses of what 2.0 will be. We keep hearing that it’s not an upgrade, but a complete rewrite, that it is for modern browsers, support for ECMA 6, etc. We’ve heard they seek to make 2.0 more modular and to correct things that weren’t right in 1.x. It all sounds good. But my question is simply this “Where is it? Perhaps you are part of an enterprise that adopted Angular and are wondering what the future will hold. What will happen with 1.x support? Should you plan for an upgrade? Can you upgrade? What about the supposed lack of support for certain browsers? Can you test and verify that? What are the plans after the first release? Again, where are the bits? This is one of the first blog posts on the matter: Note the date – March, 2014. You’ll soon see how common that date is.

As it turns out, there were some resources where we could start to get a picture. The problem is, that momentum never carried though. One such site is the learn Angular site: Note the date: March, 2014. This is nearly an 8 month old post. Supposedly, the design documents are kept on a Google Drive: There was much hype about the designs being released: Note the date – March 2014. After that, there has been for the most part, radio silence until the ng-Europe conference. But even at the conference, there still wasn’t much in the way of meaningful details. Looking at the documents today, they are either out of date or completely unreadable. Many have been crossed-out entirely. What does this mean? Has that design been scrapped? Is it a bad edit? If there is meaningful information in either the doc library or the source repos, then it is like finding a needle in a haystack. If the goal was to achieve secrecy through obfuscation, then congratulations – mission accomplished. It would be fair for some to conclude that Angular 2.0 is mere vaporware. I’m not willing to go quite that far.

Here’s my contention: if all of this was around the first release of Angular, fine. We had nothing in the first place and the team is trying to get things squared away before going public. I’ll say this, had this been Angular’s first release, where there was mis-communication and partial transparency, the prospects of success would not be there. The fact is, this IS NOT Angular’s first release. Clearly, 2.0 is a revolutionary step over 1.x. The Angular Team looking to capitalize and build upon Angular 1.x’s success. As such, the community that was praised at ng-Europe has a reasonable expectation to be kept in the loop. That’s the way you’re supposed to treat the community that makes up your development partner base. To me, it seems rather common-sensical. Why on Earth would a team want to disenfranchise the very community it relies upon and praises? Is it meaningful praise or does it just make for good copy? Words are cheap and easy. Again, it’s what you do that counts.

There’s an old saying in business and politics: You dance with the one that brought you…

If some other notable companies engaged in this sort of behavior, they would be publicly flogged. I’ll leave it to the reader to speculate on who those notable companies are.

My request of the Google Angular Team is a simple one – stop with the secrecy. Get the community involved. I’m not saying there has to be design by committee. That’s never a requirement in OSS. There should however, be an opportunity for the public to review and comment. Whether you implement that feedback is up to you. The public has a good way of showing its support or lack thereof. There are many individuals and organizations that not only need time to evaluate, they are owed that time. That is part of the compact. That’s how you earn and retain trust.

The public has put its collective trust in Angular. The Angular Team should return in kind.