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On centralized development forges

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Development
Microsoft

Since the launch of SourceForge in 1999, development of FOSS has started to concentrate in centralized development forges, the latest one of course being GitHub, now owned by Microsoft. While the centralization of development talent achieved by GitHub has had positive effects on software development output towards the commons, it is also a liability: GitHub is now effectively a single point of failure for the commons, since the overwhelming majority of software is developed there.

In other words, for the sake of convenience, we have largely traded our autonomy as software maintainers to GitHub, GitLab.com, Bitbucket and SourceForge, all of which are owned by corporate interests which, by definition, are aligned with profitability, not with our interests as maintainers.

It is indeed convenient to use GitHub or GitLab.com for software development: you get all the pieces you need in order to maintain software with modern workflows, but it really does come at a cost: SourceForge, for example, was caught redistributing Windows builds of projects under their care with malware.

While GitHub or the other forges besides SourceForge have not yet attempted anything similar, it does serve as a reminder that we are trusting forges to not tamper with the packages we release as maintainers. There are other liabilities too, for example, a commercial forge may unilaterally decide to kick your project off of their service, or terminate the account of a project maintainer.

In order to protect the commons from this liability, it is imperative to build a more robust ecosystem, one which is a federated ecosystem of software development forges, which are either directly run by projects themselves, or are run by communities which directly represent the interests of the maintainers which participate in them.

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