Proposed “First Patch” Program to Mentor New NetBeans Developers

I'm taking the liberty to repost here in its entirety an e-mail that Tom Wheeler has posted on the nbdiscuss alias. Tom Wheeler is one of the current three members of the NetBeans Governance Board. I reckon a lot of people who might be interested in reading this are not actually on that mailing list.

Ideally, if you have a comment to make on the e-mail below, you'll join the nbdiscuss mailing list and add your comments to the thread there, since that's where Tom is holding this discussion.

Peter Belbin, a fellow NetBeans community member, recently e-mailed
the NetBeans Technical Community Manager Jiří Kovalský regarding a
poll [1] on the NetBeans Web site. The poll asked “What best describes
your experience with NetBeans Plugins?” and offered four choices to
denote the degree to which missing or outdated plugins affected their
use of NetBeans.

Peter made several interesting points in his message, and Jiří cc'ed
me on his response since it was relevant to discussions we've been
having on the NetBeans Governance Board.  Peter gave me permission to
summarize our discussion here, since I think we'd all benefit from
having more voices in the discussion.

34% of respondents said that missing or outdated plugins limit their
use of NetBeans, while 22% said that some useful plugins are missing.
When combined, this means that 56% of these people found the current
state of available plugins somehow affected their use of NetBeans.
Although this is not a scientific poll by any means, there were more
than 3,000 responses so it is noteworthy.

I found the subsequent poll interesting.  It asks “What do you do when
faced with a problem using NetBeans IDE?”  Of the 1617 responses, just
21% said they file a bug report and only 5% fix the bug and contribute
a patch.

I'm pleased as a community that Oracle has continued to fund NetBeans
development.  I want to be clear that I am speaking *only* as a
community member here, but it looks like Oracle will continue to do
so, with focus on the areas that are important to their business (i.e.
those which attract customers, increase market share, showcase key
technologies or provide some other competitive advantage).  This
implies that there will be technologies which they choose not to add
to NetBeans (e.g. support for niche programming languages or source
control systems).  In other cases, they may choose not to fund new
development for certain features already in the IDE (e.g. support for
Ruby or UML).  In either case, it's important that Oracle hands these
off to the community so they can take the lead on development.  I feel
they've done this in all cases, but it's also important that the
community steps up to work on what matters to them and that they can
do so succesfully.

The question remains: if 56% of NetBeans users are affected to some
degree by missing or outdated plugins, why is only a small percentage
contributing back?  The discussion between Peter, Jirka and I also
touched on whether there were viable ways to make it easier to
contribute code and whether there could be some way for people to
contribute money rather than code in order to support the features
they found important.

In order to contribute code, I think you need three things: technical
knowledge of Java/NetBeans APIs, familiarity with the patch
contribution process and the motivation to do it.  Although there is
still a big learning curve with learning the NetBeans APIs, the
tireless work by Geertjan Wielenga and others in documenting how to
use them effectively is demonstrated in the hundreds of applications
built on the NetBeans Platform [2] by independent developers.  As part of
my work on the NetBeans Goverance Board, I plan to attack the second
problem by starting a “First Patch” program to mentor new NetBeans
developers through submitting their first patches.  This is in
addition, of course, to the remarkable work  that Jiří Kovalský has
done managing the NetFIX and NetCAT programs for many years.

We're working hard on lowering the barriers so that more people can
contribute to NetBeans.  The one aspect we need help with is
motivation.  I'd like your honest feedback in helping to understand
what does (or does not) motivate someone to contribute to an open
source project, and in particular, NetBeans.  What could we reasonably
do to turn more people from passive NetBeans users into people who
actively try to make the IDE better?  After all, any NetBeans user is
by definition also a developer.

If you have contributed to NetBeans, what motivated you to do so?  If
you haven't, what stopped you?  If you're active in other open source
projects, what specific things could we learn from them?

And finally, do you think it's practical for community members to chip
in money (in lieu of code) so that other community members will have
an incentive to develop or maintain specific plugins or features?
Having been involved in some community programs (such as NetBeans
Innovators Grant [3]) that involved money crossing international
boundaries, I know this can be a logistical nightmare.  Any references
to projects which handle community funding succesfully *and* in
accordance with all relevant laws and regulations are welcome.

Thank you for your thoughts,

Tom Wheeler
NetBeans Community Member




I'm going to work out the details of the First Patch program this weekend, so you can expect a formal announcement next week.

Several fellow NetBeans DreamTeam members have volunteered to serve as mentors, but if you have experience contributing to NetBeans and can spend a few hours helping someone to submit their first patch, please drop me a line ( If, on the other hand, you have an idea for a simple improvement you could make to NetBeans but would like some help reviewing, testing and submitting the patch, feel free to e-mail me -- I might be able to pair you up with a mentor who can help you.

Posted by Tom Wheeler on August 03, 2011 at 05:42 AM PDT #

The First Patch program has now been officially announced. You can see the details here:

Posted by Tom Wheeler on August 10, 2011 at 12:18 AM PDT #

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Geertjan Wielenga (@geertjanw) is a Principal Product Manager in the Oracle Developer Tools group living & working in Amsterdam. He is a Java technology enthusiast, evangelist, trainer, speaker, and writer. He blogs here daily.

The focus of this blog is mostly on NetBeans (a development tool primarily for Java programmers), with an occasional reference to NetBeans, and sometimes diverging to topics relating to NetBeans. And then there are days when NetBeans is mentioned, just for a change.


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