Re: announce: my fork of alot

Subject: Re: announce: my fork of alot

Date: Sun, 16 May 2021 19:47:24 +0200

To: Patrick Totzke, Michael J Gruber,


From: Anton Khirnov

Quoting Patrick Totzke (2021-05-16 17:41:49)
> Hi everyone,
> All this sounds very exciting and I'd be very happy to see these features in
> (mainline) alot!
> I agree that some of alot's underlying code is ready for refactoring
> and urwid in particular has been a big drag on quickly implementing things.
> Also, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on deprecating some "unworthy"
> features in order to reduce the maintenance effort!

That is largely a matter of perspective and personal preference. E.g.
among the things gone in my tree are:
- removing messages - I dropped that because I considered that code
  potentially dangerous, had no use for it myself, and just didn't want
  to tiptoe around it; someone actually using RemoveCommand in their
  workflow would have a different opinion
- switching to split-window layout for thread view made it simpler to
  implement quote folding, but also made sense to me since I never want
  to see more than one message at once;
  again, someone who prefers collapsing messages would see this as loss
  of functionality is very much in effect

> > > Why did I not submit all this as PRs to upstream alot? The main reasons
> > > were my lack of time and disagreement with the upstream about project
> > > status. From what I can tell, alot maintainers consider the project to
> > > be mature, so they prioritize stability and small incremental changes.
> > > From my perspective, alot is lacking some critical features -- some
> > > implemented in my fork already, some planned -- which makes it
> > > borderline-unusable for me. As implementing those features required
> > > large-scale architectural changes and my free time was quite limited, I
> > > prioritized quickly implementing the things I cared about over
> > > progressing in small incremental stable easily-reviewable steps.
> > 
> > I have a similar impression about the project status. I'm curious: What
> > are the architectural changes that you made?
> Yes, the speed at which alot progresses is borderline problematic. This is of
> course down to the small number of core contributors and the fact that for all
> of us life goes on an priorities change.
> One problem is that the project attracts many users interested in pushing what
> I'd call "hotfixes" to address missing features: Often people would present
> a (nicely working) proof-of concept that is not well documented, tested, and
> doesn't adhere to common code conventions, only not to follow up on their
> promises to "clean things up", for all too understandable reasons.
> Still, I believe that just merging everything will quickly kill the project as
> a) this leads to code that is very difficult and time-consuming to maintain and
> b) broken features are very damaging to user's perception of the software, much
> more so than missing ones.
> I am not accusing you of anything here, Anton. I just wish to point out
> potential long term difficulties and clarify that I tried to err on the side of
> cautiousness to keep alot afloat in a usable state for most (potential) users.

You would be very correct to accuse me of taking various shortcuts. I
would not call my changes "hotfixes", as I tried to keep continuous
future improvements in mind (and in fact see many of my changes as
cleanup and simplification). But I did make an explicit decision to
prioritise rapidly adding new functionality, at the cost of potential
regressions and loss of some features I did not need.

And again, this is a matter of perspective. If alot does what you want
it to do then of course you will value stability and consistency. But if
the lack of certain features makes it barely usable, then it makes sense
to be more radical.

> > > At this point my tree has over 200 new commits and some ~4k changed
> > > lines, so it's looking increasingly unlikely that I'll ever find the
> > > free time and motivation to upstream it -- especially given alot's
> > > glacial pace of development recently. If people are interested in using
> > > this, I'll probably fork it "properly" under a new name.
> > > 
> > > Any comments or questions are very much welcome. I can also be reached
> > > on IRC as elenril.
> > 
> > Have you tried raising these concerns with upstream before your fork?
> > Have you tried gathering a team around an idea and starting something
> > new together?
> > 
> > Frankly, upstream is borderline small already, and the way you started
> > your fork probably will not attract a team of people who want to make
> > that new fork their (common) own or are looking for a stronger team.
> I share Michael's concerns about further splintering the small group of
> developers and believe that this would be to the detriment of both projects.
> It's no secret that I am ready to give the helm to others. I have been
> maintaining this project for a while now, mainly for personal usage and as
> a fun distraction. I have tried to squeeze in time to review pull requests when
> possible and am grateful for the many code contributions over the years, most
> notably the big steps towards pgp/mime, python3 and notmuch2, all of which I'd
> have never found the time to implement myself.
> It has so far been a successful, albeit slow, strategy to try and coordinate
> efforts and I would very much like to see this going on, but without
> sacrificing the quality of the code or the relative mature user experience.

And here is precisely the crux of the problem. My changes are pretty
drastic and 1) there WILL be bugs 2) someone WILL find them to degrade
their user experience. You cannot always satisfy everyone.

Combined with the fact that I also have a lot on my plate and don't see
myself reshaping my tree into nicely packaged atomic changes with a
ribbon on top (at least not any time soon).

> To be clear: I still do not consider alot "mature" in the sense that I'd oppose
> radical refactoring. This is reflected in its version number :)

If you can find the time for it, maybe try to look at the individual
changes in my tree. Try it out, see what makes sense to you, what
doesn't, etc. I would be happy to see it all merged into alot, just
don't see how it can practically be done through the normal channels.

E.g. one thing I expect to be contentious is the removal of urwidtrees
use. I understand you are its author, so it may be unpleasant to hear,
but I found it to be a major obstacle to implementing quote folding.

Anton Khirnov
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