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jeremy 06-28-2013 01:56 PM

Open Source Foundations in a Post-GitHub World

Two years ago Mikeal Rogers wrote a controversial piece called “Apache considered harmful” that touched a nerve for advocates of open source software foundations. Specifically, the piece argued that the ASF had outlived its usefulness, but in reality the post-GitHub nature of the criticism applied to a wide range of open source foundations.

For many years, open source foundations such as Apache counted project hosting as one of their core reasons for being. But in the majority of cases, the infrastrcture supporting this functionality was antiquated, as few of the foundations had embraced modern Distributed Version Control Systems such as Git. The Eclipse Foundation, for example, had a number of projects controlled by CVS, an application whose first release was in 1990. The ASF, meanwhile, was fully committed to its own Subversion project, a centralized VCS that was over a decade old at the time of Rogers’ post.

Outside the foundations, meanwhile, the traction of GitHub’s implementation of Git had exploded. It had become, almost overnight, the default for new project hosting. And because GitHub was in the business of hosting a version control system, and paid for it, it was no surprise that the quality of their hosting implementation was substantially better than what open source foundations like Apache or Eclipse could offer.

This preference for GitHub’s implementation led some developers, like Rogers, to question the need for foundations like Apache or Eclipse. In a world where GitHub was where the code lived and the largest population of developers was present, of what use were foundations?

One answer, in my view, was brand. Others included IP management, project governance, legal counsel, event planning, predictable release schedules and so on. But even assuming those services represent genuine value to developers, it would be difficult to adequately offset GitHub’s substantial advantages in interface and critical mass. GitHub makes a developer’s life easier now; intellectual property policies might or might not make their life easier at some point in the future.

As of this morning, however, developers at one foundation no longer need to choose. As the Eclipse Foundation’s FAQ covers, the Eclipse Foundation will now permit projects – just new ones, for the time being – to host their primary repository external to the foundations servers at GitHub.
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