Manjaro Linux Lead Developer In Hot Waters Over Donation Slush Fund For Laptop And Personal Items
Philip Müller, one of the lead Manjaro Linux developers, wanted to buy a new €2000 laptop for another developer. Jonathon Fernyhough, the former treasurer tasked with ensuring that the funds donated by the community are not misused for personal enjoyment, said no. Müller reacted by replacing Fernyhough with himself who, he likely believes, is more inclined to buy that shiny new laptop.
The Manjaro Linux donations fund used to go directly to Philip Müller's personal bank account. Some in the Manjaro community thought it would be better to have slightly more control over how the donated funds are (ab)used so they elected to have OpenCollective and CommunityBridge collect the funds on behalf of the Manjaro Linux developers.
Jonathon Fernyhough was put in charge of managing the donations collected by OpenCollective and CommunityBridge. That worked well until Manjaro developer Philip Müller wanted to buy a new €2000 laptop for fellow German Manjaro developer Helmut Stult and Fernyhough said no. The argument over said laptop resulted in Müller removing Fernyhough from the treasurer position. He also banned him from the Manjaro Linux forum after Fernyhough posted some critical comments indicating disapproval over being fired by a project lead because he said no to an expense that he does not believe makes sense to the Manjaro Linux project as a whole. Fernyhough was also removed from the Manjaro websites "Meet Our Awesome Team" page. That Müller replaced Fernyhough with himself, who will likely be a lot more willing to say yes to buying in the laptop in question, over this dispute seems like a slightly questionable decision.
The €2000 laptop is, supposedly, for the purpose for building packages. That story could have held some water if it was a desktop or a server. One does not simply go out shopping for a build server and come back with a laptop.
€2000 is, of course, not a very large amount in the grand scheme of things. It equals something like two thirds of a months pay in most industrialized countries. It is not like Müller looted the Manjaro Linux donation fund and ran off with millions.
€2000 is also not a completely trivial amount. Developers working full-time for commercial Linux vendors like Canonical, IBM/RedHat and SUSE need to beg and get approval from upper management before they can borrow a shiny new €2000 laptop from their employer and they do not get to keep it if they are fired or switch jobs for other reasons.
Philip Müller and Bernhard Landauer started a European for-profit corporation called Manjaro GmbH Co&KR one year ago (July 2019) with the aim of making money off their Manjaro Linux development. That company has so far failed to make any measurable amount of money. A director of a profitable company could easily buy an employee laptop. That is much harder to do if a company is one unexpected bill away from bankruptcy.
Philip Müllers involvement with and co-ownership of Manjaro GmbH Co&KR makes his new position as Manjaro community treasurer problematic. Directing revenue to a for-profit corporation while externalizing expenses to a voluntary community organization does not seem very ethical. We do not know if the following accusation holds any water or not:
"There is a definite conflict when Manjaro GmbH is, for example, making deals with a hardware company to optimise Manjaro for laptops, then claiming expenses from community funds for laptops from that company to do development for that company."
Philip Müller is now in a position where he does not need to rely on the company he co-founded or the goodwill of suits in upper management at a large corporation in order to secure new laptops for himself or select fellow developers. He has made himself treasurer and king of the Manjaro Linux donations fund which means that he can buy as many laptops he wants - until the funds loyal Manjaro Linux lovers have donated run out. That will likely happen sooner rather than later because there really isn't that much argue over. This went down over a €2000 laptop. Müller is not trying to spend €50000 worth of donations on a car, not that there is anywhere near that much in the Manjaro community coffers. The OpenCollective backers donate slightly less than €10000 per year.
Free software communities that are not backed by and/or controlled by large corporate interests do simply not have a huge budget. The Xfce developers recently discussed how to spend the around $90 that project has in their coffers. While it is admirable that they wanted to fairly distribute the $90, it is also a bit laughable given that the amount in question is barely enough to buy a few pizzas at a developer meetup.
Regardless of the relatively small amounts in question: The Manjaro lead developers decision to make himself treasurer and king smells slightly unethical and we hope that Manjaro "community" dictator Müller considers whether he did the right thing or not. Some in the Manjaro community have lost faith and trust in both Müller and the Manjaro project in general. Placing someone who does not have a obvious personal conflict in charge of the funds donated to the Manjaro project would be good way to start clawing some of that lost trust back. The fox should not be guarding the hen-house.