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A Tale of Two Forks

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While I was writing last Friday's editor's note, "Linux Should Copy Amiga", I kept thinking what a different story it would have been if Amiga had been released under a Free Software license. I'm sure I'm not the only one with that thought. Then I ran across osCommerce is Dead: Long Live the NEW osCommerce Project. While the circumstances are different, this is also a story of a software project in trouble. But it has a different ending, because osCommerce is licensed under the GPL.

osCommerce has been very successful, and reportedly is used by over 200,000 online stores. Despite its success, it has been plagued by problems:

"Last January the group did release a bugfix release version 2.2 Release Candidate 2a, but this was the only official development of the year. The rest of the year the group remained silent. Leadership was absent even on the osCommerce forums which in previous years had been run with an iron fist

"Discussion of other open source programs was permitted and the posts remained, leading to speculation that the development team has simply abandoned ship. The once-prolific forum moderator and poster Ponce de Leon, who once posted to his forum daily, failed to even log onto his own forum for five months until he returned briefly earlier this month....

"Over the years, the unyielding management of the founder, Harald Ponce de Leon, forced team after team of developers to resign."

Long-time development team member Rhea Anthony apparently felt that investing further energy in the existing project was not going to work out, so she built her own team and forked osCommerce; the new project is called The osCommerce Project.

Contrast that with the poor old AmigaOS: once upon a time it was revolutionary, and it still has a large devoted following. But development stalled because it lost funding, and ownership of the code came under dispute, and is still unresolved. Hyperion Entertainment and Amiga, Inc. both claim to be working on Amiga 4.0, but who knows if it will ever be released. Or if it will be relevant, or comparable to other modern operating systems after all this time. A lesson in how the freedom to fork, and to release your modifications, is powerful protection from lock-in and obsolescence.

References

A history of the Amiga, part 7: Game on!, with links to the first six parts.


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