Foundation:Gentoo History

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The Birth of Gentoo

Once upon a time ...

Nope ... we have some dates, so I'll use them whenever I can.

It wasn't quite like the birth of the Universe, first there was nothing, then there was Gentoo. Daniel Robbins had been working on an earlier project and this became Gentoo. Gentoo was officially founded on 4th October 1999. That is the date that gentoo.org was registered and its the best we have to go on. Daniel Robbins, Gentoo's founder and chief architect or benevolent dictator for life (BDLF) was unable to provide a better date when the subject of Gentoo's birthday was researched for the 10th birthday which fell in 2009.

The drobbins Years 1999 - 2004

Between the founding of Gentoo and Daniel retiring in 2004 all of Gentoo's copyrights and other intellectual property belonged indirectly to Daniel. Developers assigned copyright to Gentoo Technologies Inc. and Gentoo Technologies Inc. belonged to Daniel.

There is little evidence that the copyright assignment documents were ever completed by more that a handful of developers.

The Gentoo shop also belonged to Gentoo Technologies Inc.

The structure of Gentoo at that time was a normal corporation. Everything was under the control of Gentoo Technologies Inc. and Daniel was the 'Chief Architect' of Gentoo too.

Top level project leads were appointed rather than voted for - there was much less democracy, which may have been a good thing for the pace of development. Gentoo was smaller then and easier for one person to manage.

Daniel ran Gentoo with the help of the Top Level Project leads until he retired from Gentoo in 2004. Until that time, Gentoos assets were held by Gentoo Technologies Inc. which was owned and operated by Daniel as a For Profit organisation.

As a part of Daniels retirement, the not for profit Gentoo Foundation Inc. was formed.

The Top Level Project leads, now without a chief architect, continued to be responsible for the technical direction of Gentoo.

The Transition to The Gentoo Foundation Inc. 2004

As a part of Daniels retirement, the not for profit Gentoo Foundation Inc. was formed to inherit all of the assets of Gentoo Technologies Inc. Its purpose was to to be able to legally represent Gentoo as well as to be accountable for Gentoos assets.

The Gentoo Foundation Inc. took over from Gentoo Technologies Inc. and the TLP leads,without the Chief Architect, continued to manage Gentoo.

It was never that simple. The Gentoo Foundation Inc. is constrained by the New Mexico Not for Profit Statutes as modified by case law, the Foundation Bylaws and the Foundation Charter.

Gentoo Technologies Inc. was similarly constrained by the laws of the land but the business management side was handled by Daniel, Gentoo developers were not involved.

The Early Foundation Years 2004-2007

From its birth, on 14 May 2004, the Foundation was fairly invisible to developers ... until in 2007 some papers went astray in the post, the annual returns did not reach New Mexico authorities and the Gentoo Foundation Inc. fell into bad standing. That lead to a lot of noise on the gentoo-nfp mailing list and elections for new trustees were held in early 2008.

Perhaps the Gentoo leadership missed a trick when the council was formed. Gentoo could have been organised as a standard corporation then but historically, Gentoo Technologies Inc. had been kept visibly separate from the distribution and the Gentoo Foundation was more formally set up in the same manner.

The Rise of The Gentoo Council

The Top Level Project leads continued to be responsible for the technical direction of Gentoo, although for one reason or another, this became less effective with the passing of time.

When this was noticed, a number of proposals beginning with discussions at FOSDEM 2005, were formulated. One was selected by a ballot of developers and subsequently codified in GLEP 39.

The results of the first council election were announced on 1 Sept 2005 and the first council meeting was held on 15 September 2005

Thus the council was created later and separately from the Foundation.

The Gentoo Foundation Inc. 2007-

Since the 2008 Trustee elections, the trustees have held regular monthly meetings in #gentoo-trustees. Members and non members are welcome to attend. Meeting logs have been [published ] (grouped by year), motions captured and all in all, the Gentoo Foundation Inc has been more visible and transparent than in the early years. That is not to suggest that the early trustees neglected the Foundation.

Since its formation the council has always been a visible body within Gentoo, they are required by their terms of reference (GLEP 39) to hold at least one public meeting per month. On the other hand, the trustees are the board responsible for a business. They are required by the laws of New Mexico to hold an Annual General Meeting open to all members. Its much easier for the Gentoo Foundation to be invisible.

The Gentoo Foundation Inc. is responsible to its members ... that's not the same body of people as the Gentoo council are responsible to. The council is responsible to and elected by Gentoo developers. Foundation members are members who have voted in at least one of the last two Trustee elections and people who have asked to join, showing how they have contributed to Gentoo. Not all developers are Foundation members, membership is opt in, and some Foundation members are not Gentoo developers.

The Future of Gentoo

As a result of the way Gentoo has been organised in the past and the way the organisation has evolved over time, Gentoo has grown into a two headed monster. There is Gentoo (the distribution) under the council, with no legal status whatsoever and the Gentoo Foundation Inc. that owns everything and has the legal responsibility and accountability for Gentoo (the distro).

The current arrangement works because Gentoo is small and the informal communications structure allows it to work.

From the outside its looks very odd and may well cost us both donations and sponsorship. It needs to be addressed by reorganizing Gentoo into a conventional corporate structure. That is another topic.


This article is based on a document formerly found on our main website gentoo.org.
The following people contributed to the original document: Roy Bamford (NeddySeagoon)
They are listed here as the Wiki history does not allow for any external attribution. If you edit the Wiki article, please do not add yourself here; your contributions are recorded on the history page.