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Open Source Ruby Apache

What Happens to Open Source Code After Its Developer Dies? (wired.com) 78

An anonymous reader writes: The late Jim Weirich "was a seminal member of the western world's Ruby community," according to Ruby developer Justin Searls, who at the age of 30 took over Weirich's tools (which are used by huge sites like Hulu, Kickstarter, and Twitter). Soon Searls made a will and a succession plan for his own open-source projects. Wired calls succession "a growing concern in the open-source software community," noting developers have another option: transferring their copyrights to an open source group (for example, the Apache Foundation).

Most package-management systems have "at least an ad-hoc process for transferring control over a library," according to Wired, but they also note that "that usually depends on someone noticing that a project has been orphaned and then volunteering to adopt it." Evan Phoenix of the Ruby Gems project acknowledges that "We don't have an official policy mostly because it hasn't come up all that often. We do have an adviser council that is used to decide these types of things case by case." Searls suggests GitHub and package managers like Ruby Gems add a "dead man's switch" to their platform, which would allow programmers to automatically transfer ownership of a project or an account to someone else if the creator doesn't log in or make changes after a set period of time.

Wired also spoke to Michael Droettboom, who took over the Python library Matplotlib after John Hunter died in 2012. He points out that "Sometimes there are parts of the code that only one person understands," stressing the need for developers to also understand the code they're inheriting.

What Happens to Open Source Code After Its Developer Dies?

Comments Filter:
  • It remains... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Master5000 ( 4644507 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @02:13PM (#55536295)
    open for anybody to continue? That is exactly the advantage of open source.
    • Technically? Certainly.

      Legally? Legally, the code is property of his estate.

      Open source means that the source code can be viewed by everyone, not that it has no owner and is up for the taking.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @02:51PM (#55536489) Journal

      Yes, the code is available, it's open source, after all.
      The question the article gets to is how do packagers such as Red Hat or CPAN decide which version to include by default - the old, established one that hasn't been updated, or the new one that has updates but not not the long history? That may be a case-by-case issue by it's very nature.

      The other point raised is that programmers, up open source or proprietary, should make sure that two other people have commit access, or will get it.

      In my most significant software I wrote by myself, I included a "dead man's switch" which I'm thinking about activating. In the license, I included a clause that said if my web page goes down, non-copyright is automatically passed to a certain person (I maintain my rights as well). If they choose not to maintain the software, two other people are named. If none of those three picks it up, it automatically goes GPL and anyone can do what they want with it, including providing updates and support as part of their business.

      The person I passed it along to a few years may not be actively maintaining and supporting it, so I may post it relevant forums declaring that I'm now licensing it open source. I may also contact some of the people that make "competing" software and let them know they can freely use my old software, or parts of it, in compliance with an open-source license I'll select.

      • I accidentally typed

        non-copyright is automatically passed to a certain person (I maintain my rights as well)

        That should say:

        non-exclusive copyright is automatically passed to a certain person (I maintain my rights as well)

        They got full rights to do whatever they wanted with the code, expressed as a non-exclusive license. I also maintained my own rights, so I can theoretically use library routines or any patentable new ideas in my own projects, or allow other people to do so.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Yes, the code is available, it's open source, after all. The question the article gets to is how do packagers such as Red Hat or CPAN decide which version to include by default - the old, established one that hasn't been updated, or the new one that has updates but not not the long history? That may be a case-by-case issue by it's very nature. The other point raised is that programmers, up open source or proprietary, should make sure that two other people have commit access, or will get it.

        That's neat when you have someone to name as your heir before your untimely demise, but it's not like most projects has an over-abundance of volunteers looking to secure their rank in the line of succession. For most projects I think it would be quite unclear who, if any, is going to step up and take over in advance. Maybe they need to feel the void of your absence, maybe they're secretly hoping someone else will pick up the mantle, maybe they don't want to take on the commitment they'd feel as the named su

        • My experience is that on projects with few contributors, those contributors care about the project - they are using it in their business or their own larger project, so one will be willing to take over even if only for their own self-interest. I've taken over a few projects for that reason. I became the maintainer not because I'm altruistic, but because I needed the software to work.

    • by MrDozR ( 1476411 )
      Thats not the main point though. Anyone can fork a github repo and continue working on it. The problem lies in adoption. If a well known and used repo, say github.com/foo-tool is used by many other projects and the sole maintainer and only permitted committer passes away, there is no-one around to continue in that repo. It would have to be forked. It takes time and a bit of patience for a fork of a known project to start being accepted as a dependency in others. Maybe github (and others) should have some
  • Sometimes I wonder if Webalizer (web server log analyzer) has been orphaned in a manner similar to this thread's topic. Last I checked, the website (webalizer.org) is still up, but no one seems to be home.
  • Zero support. Zero updates. Zero documentation.

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @03:14PM (#55536587)

    ..is that has no gating dependencies on the original developer.

    If something is opensource then either it already has other people to keep working on it, or it wasn't filling anyone else's real need anyway, so doesn't matter if it fades away.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      A problem with FOSS software is that it often *does* have gating dependencies on the current developer. They aren't so much legal as informational, and sometimes interest, but they're there.

      That said, this is much less severe with FOSS projects than with closed source projects, and the legal obstacles are absent, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any dependencies.

      E.g. (a story from the 1970's).
      There was this shoe store that used software to do its taxes, and since computer time was expensive the comp

      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        That leads perfectly into my one major gripe about open source projects.
        The documentation is most usually either absolutely crap, or completely absent.

  • The good, well-documented, test-covered and well-behaving code goes to heaven repository. The other codes are incorporated into Microsoft products.
  • by senatorpjt ( 709879 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @04:55PM (#55537069)

    The same thing that happens when a developer loses interest in a project. Either someone steps up to maintain it or it sits in stasis until then. It's certainly a better situation to be in than to be stuck with closed source stuff after the company goes under or stops supporting it.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      MUCH better. At least you can figure out how to read the data files, even if nothing else. I've ended up with a bunch of files from dropped closed source projects that represent a huge amount of work and are totally worthless. Now I won't depend on any software that isn't FOSS.

      • You've never heard of VMs? Because in this day and age that excuse is bullshit as you can trivially run a VM of every OS from BeOS to Windows 10 so you can run any old program you please no matter what OS it was coded for.
        • Assuming that the original program ran on an x86 PC. Getting data out of programs that only ran on a PowerPC Mac is much harder, though older systems (e.g. most m68k systems, such as Amigas and older Macs) were sufficiently simple that there are now emulators that have decent performance. Unless, of course, the program in question relied on some copy protection mechanism that doesn't work with the emulator. Try getting anything that had a parallel-port dongle to work in DOSBox, for example.

          Even then, ju

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          Some of the programs I could run in emulation, though not well, since many of them were timing dependent. But I couldn't get the data from the files.

          Recently I took an old computer, booted it up, and *printed* a bunch of the files to pdf. This gave me the data, but not in a very usable form, then I transferred the pdfs to a different computer, and now I'm in the process of recovering from the pdfs. This has not left me very happy about programs that won't usably export the data. And by usably I mean in

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @06:00PM (#55537381) Journal
    Someone comes along, looks at it, decides it's all garbage, decides that they can do better, and rewrites it. The only real difference is that those using it in their own product have the option of locally sticking with and maintaining the old code.
  • by sysrammer ( 446839 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @06:22PM (#55537469) Homepage

    Old programmers never die, they get redirected to /dev/null.

  • Assuming that the developer did not explicitly designate succession plans, and that the developer's heirs don't have an interest in the project, the code becomes abandoned property. The law in most countries recognizes abandoned property as available to anyone who wants it, whether that is physical property or virtual. For example, if you take a refrigerator out to the curb for trash pickup, anyone who wants it is free to take it and use it however they want to. If software is abandoned, it would legally fa

  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @09:44PM (#55538131) Homepage

    I get the issues involved, the desire of many in the open source community to require users of open source software to make their own software also open. Still, I find it ironic that the open source community is worried about what people might do with open source software after the author dies. If it were truly open, one would think that they would be happy that the source code now continues to be free for anyone to use or modify!

  • If a project is useful it will be forked and maintained by a new maintainer. Linux will survive perfectly well without Linus Torvalds. Do the original developers of gcc even still contribute?

    If people need new features, they can add them. They will do so because it's easier than finding software that does what we want.

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