Why no more new AND successful FOSS projects in the last ten years?

I’ve already reported about the main highlights of the Swatantra17 conference. Here are some more thoughts, about a very general issue, prompted by other things I heard at the same conference.

During his talk, Mako hill said, among other things, that “we must innovate innovation and advocacy. We need to get serious about advocacy in a way that we did not need to over the last two decades”.

While discussing this among conference participants, a related question emerged: “why there have been no more new AND successful FOSS projects in the last ten years?”

Why no more new AND successful FOSS projects in the last ten years? /img/reach-congregation-not-preach-to-the-choir.jpg

Speaking of advocacy, I believe that every Free Software advocate that still uses the story of Stallman’s Printer instead of that the “Large-Hearted Queen of Open Source code” Karen Sandler… should be sentenced to only use unpatched Windows. 95, not the current version. I wrote in 2006 / 2007 that the traditional way to explain, justify and advocate Free as in Freedom software had already reached some built-in limit, that there were things we were tired of hearing about it and that a new Free Software Manifesto was needed.

Why no more new AND successful FOSS projects in the last ten years?

Here is my own version of a partial answer:

One reason may be that there simply is no actual need of projects that are really “new big successful projects” anymore. Not in the sense usually associated to those words, at least. Maybe the only real need there is today is for work that non-developers would never be able to identify, let alone develop by themselves. But is work that is really unglamorous, far from “state of the art”. Work that sometimes is suicidal, career-wise, and therefore quite unlikely to attract, in times like these, anybody looking for money and/or success. Some examples:

As far as I’m concerned, a big and badly needed “new FOSS project” remains a FOSS desktop which may even have the same look, feel and functions of 5+ years ago… as long as it runs as smoothly as Android does on any smartphone. Even on computers that are 5+ years old.

If you ask me, the new, successful FOSS projects should be project that fix, replace, rewrite, whatever… the really unglamorous, low-level tools, libraries and so on that would make that happen. Yes, I know that this is really unlikely to happen under current business models and until IoT everywhere, new iPhones every year and the like are perceived as higher priorities, regardless of their environmental impacts and, very often, sheer lack of sense.

Back to the question: in addition to money, I believe that there is another reason why there have been “no more new AND successful FOSS projects in the last ten years”, and is a much more serious one.

Had the FOSS advocates of 1996 been told that in 20 years FOSS would be widely, albeit not exclusively, used and developed by companies worth billions of dollars, with billions of users, they would have refused to believe it. Yeah, right, world domination. But not at that scale, in just 20 years. Too good to be true.

Today, instead, we do have such companies, and they are Google, Facebook and the rest of their kind. What we have today is “Linux owning the Internet”… in the wrong way. We all know how much this has increased our freedom, digital and not: as Karen Sandler said at Swatantra17, when it comes to software-related freedom, “Free Software is in everything [today], yet we have less freedom than ever”. Or, as I regularly put it, you can set up the perfect police state using only 100% Free as in Freedom software.

Maybe this is why there are no more new successful FOSS projects: maybe both younger developers and the world at large have realized, or instinctively feel, that software freedom is irrelevant, if alone. (for the record, the Swatantra17 audience seemed quite aware of this issue.

Speaking of new, successful and NECESSARY projects…

I urgently need (not for me personally!) a really USABLE personal cloud that provides email, file hosting, social networking etc… without the limits of stuff like Diaspora, Mastodon, Scuttlebutt, Holochain and so on. One that, before really cool new tech, provides transparent INTEROPERABILITY with Facebook, Twitter etc. that is the legacy systems that everybody else still uses.

Instead, we’re full of projects of phones, “next Web”, whatever… that yes, cannot communicate with any other already existing phone or social network. But hey, they’re so cool and innovative that it couldn’t possibly matter, could it? For more on this, please read Forget Net Neutrality. Think personal clouds instead.

(Image source: screenshot of this slideshow)