blog, portfolio, and links

On Difficult Free Software Maintanence

Sunday 27 September 2020 - Filed under Default

This was posted as a comment on It’s not free software if you can’t easily fork it (and how to fix it). Saving it here for posterity and in case the comment isn’t approved for some reason.

You make some excellent points. Yes, the problem is real and important. I’m replying here because as one comment said on the HN you work against your point by encouraging discussion on a popular closed platform. We who understand need to be able to come together and work to our strengths.

Free Software is struggle. The further into it you tread the more issues you run into, and if you’re going to keep on, you need an open mind and some ideology but practically speaking, your struggle improves life for so many others. It feels like it’s always playing catch up and all the cool razzle-dazzle stuff that’s fun to show off is proprietary but that sparkle wears off pretty fast.

At some point, even in tech, there is nothing new under the sun. When we’re surrounded by commodity magic (such as the Linux kernel now), there’s no way a proprietary alternative can compete. If Linus were to disappear, there are still tons of people  and organizations with serious interest in the kernel being maintained and improved. Viability of the kernel, which is maybe not the best example due to its success, is less a practical matter than a political one.

The issue you’re experiencing with Discourse is specific to that project’s hosting model. They are disincentivized to make the project easy to maintain for all possible paths. They’ve made choices that worked for them, just as you’ve made choices that worked for you. 

Maybe your post will make a shiny thing of fixing or forking Discourse. It’s obviously not going to be a top-down approach that works here, but as you describe your pain, others read about it and see how it applies to their own existence, more points  of shine will erupt. I trust this overall process of creation, maintenance, failure, forking, and new torch-bearers far more than the proprietary alternatives.

The cost one pays for going this way brings a return that is beyond compare. I’ve engaged with the free software vs proprietary question as an independent consultant, a corporate software developer, and someone who at times wants cool new stuff that works. Though I struggle to maintain focus, posts like yours make me want to once again look for shiny things and get to work.

2020-09-27  »  David Sterry