Software Development

Review of ‘Producing Open Source Software’ by Karl Fogel

Anyone who has searched through the massive list of projects at Sourceforge and other places will know they are full of interesting ideas that never got off the ground, or stall after a couple of releases. And it is not an outrageous statement that a group of developers with all the required technical skills does not necessarily make a successful project, especially when the target audience are not fellow developers. At the same time FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) has the ability to draw on such a diverse range of people in both background and abilities and the potential is enormous when properly harnessed and directed.
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The Pursuit of Free Software (as in free speech)

It is a quiet time work wise at the moment, so I decided to clean out some of the accumulated gunk that has has gathered on the hard drive. Apps, articles etc that looked good, get downloaded and not seen again for 6 months.

Saved away was a pdf of the book “Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M.Stallman”. I must say I didn’t read every essay to the last line, but it was an interesting read, if a little dogmatic.

I admit that I came to start using free software / open source software, for “…purely practical reasons…” as he believes most recent users have. To me, the freedom aspect was a bonus, which I have recently begun to better understand. The first time I installed a GNU/Linux distribution, I had no interest in diving into the source code and extending or modifying and redistributing. I wanted a solid OS, and that is what I got for a very good price. The same when I installed any of a number of other apps such as Firefox, Apache, MySQL (the list goes on). But recently I have been looking at extending/forking an existing app which is no longer being maintained. If this had been a proprietary application I wouldn’t be in a position to do so. Fortunately the license is GPL so I have the freedom to do so. Maybe I am wasting my time and the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ nature of the marketplace, had already weeded out an inferior product, but I don’t think this is true. So build on the work of others and reinvent less of the wheel. If it fails it doesn’t matter at least there was the opportunity. More details to follow once the alpha is ready.

Back to the essays. The term “free software” has lost the battle with the term “open source”. This is my belief, not his admission, but I see his frustration in that what he has long advocated, has been narrowed from his vision, and become the dominant position in the wider community. “Free Software” has just conveyed the wrong message in its title for most people. It has a long history, but is it to late to modify the term “free software”? To me the word liberty makes more sense, but was apparently rejected long ago. To me a change may reinvigorate the discussion on the real freedom of software, rather than the marketing use of the term “open source”.