Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

The changing face of FOSS project hosting

With Github introducing a way for projects to receive donations via its site the business model which Microsoft is going to be deploying is getting clearer. They say that they won't be taking any percentage of the donations for a year, but presumably after that anything goes. Once you have them by the income then it also becomes a lot harder for developers to vacate the platform and they're more likely to accept bad practices being foisted upon them as part of an often subconscious cost/benefit analysis. Microsoft could start leveraging its patent portfolio this way, by taking a bigger percentage of donation money from popular projects as a patent protection racket.

With Gitlab being backed by venture capital from Google it's only a matter of time before they exit and maybe do something similar. I'm not against FOSS projects receiving donations, but it's easy to see how this could become a way to lock developers onto monolithic proprietary platforms in a manner where they can't easily escape and where they may feel compelled to accept ugly tradeoffs.

So I think what's needed is a distributed git project hosting system. At this point a giant chorus of developers will say:

But git is already a distributed system

Which it is. But the important parts which facilitate low friction collaboration aren't distributed. Git itself only really supports the 1990s email-based collaboration model used by the Linux kernel. Unless you really have a buttoned down email workflow using something like Mutt and procmail, this isn't easy for most people.

The aim should be to be able to make a pull request or file an issue on a project without needing to have an account on someone's home server. Some form of identity which works with anything but doesn't make life easy for spammers.

If we don't have a good solution for this within the next couple of years then I can foresee that Free Software development is going to become a lot less accessible. Developers are going to feel that they have no choice other than to accept advertising in their hosting system or a requirement to use specific Microsoft tools and unpleasant compromises like that.