Random writings on software & product development, running, business and anything else

Category: FOSS

Free and open source software makes the world go round

15 Years of KDE

KDE Official LogoIt is coming on 15 years since the original announcement for KDE. For most of my time using Linux KDE has been my preferred desktop environment and still is today.
The first time I saw KDE was in about 1998/9 when I installed Mandrake on my aging Windows PC. It took a few years before KDE/Linux became my default environment and then I did head to Gnome land around KDE4/4.1. But that is history.
Today I run Kubuntu not only for personal use but also business and software development. By the weekend it will be Kubuntu 11.10 with KDE 4.7.2.
And should I go down the tablet route, KDE might have me covered with Plasma Active.

Is an open license enough?

Does having an open license for a software project, have all the advantages negated if the development process is basically closed to the outside world?

Recently I have been trialling a new web based account/billing software. It is not a very mature project, but the features listed and performance so far have me believing that this is potentially a good solution. Also it is written in a language I am comfortable with (PHP), and it has an open license (GNU AGPL). Hence I may be able to contribute.

However, I have now encountered some issues. The project is under the control of a small company, and project communication is limited to a couple of mailing lists. I have tried direct communication, but the response was things are proceeding, and they are very busy.

The latest planned release date has now slipped twice. I understand software development, and this happens, but public communication has been minimal. Also there is no public source control. In most FOSS projects, a browse of commits will give a good indication of the health of the project, but this is not possible.

So we have a closed open source project. Some may raise the option of forking, but this is almost exclusively a bad result in the long run. So I will wait a little longer, and see how it goes?

Note: I have intentionally not named the software in question, as I still have hope for this project, and do not wish to tarnish the reputation unfairly.

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”.

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