@mriya11 recently asked me about what is the “vision” for FOSS United and I did not have a clear answer, so here are some rambling thoughts.
When we say “FOSS”, I am realising it means very different things to different people. Here are some that come to mind.
- Software “rights”: If you look at the origin of “Free Software” (Stallman), it strongly comes from the perspective that I should have the right to study and change the software that runs my hardware. Period. It is not concerned with how software gets paid for. So far this has been the ideological core of the movement over the years. I should have full control over my machine and that means the right to modify my software as I see please. And once I modify the software, then I should also have rights to distribute it.
- Industry Collaboration: Freedom and sharing makes it very convenient for a large number of companies to come and collaborate on projects - to share engineering costs to build and maintain complex software. Linux and Linux Foundation are great examples.
- “Open Source” and Entrepreneurship: This comes from the perspective of how do we “sustain” all the work that gets created. While we want the “rights” on software, we also realise that there is a lot of thankless maintenance and housekeeping and vigilance that is required to sustain upgrades to the software - this is where open source comes in the perspective of software released and maintained by companies. A lot of funding that has gone into FOSS projects comes because people have realised that it is possible to sustain and thrive with just providing additional services around FOSS projects (hosting, support etc) and even by keeping some parts non-public (which kind of violates #1)
- Learn world class engineering: One of the collateral benefits of software being “free” both open and free is that it becomes and excellent tool for learners - this is where we are seeing maximum traction in the FOSS United community with students using the opportunity to interact with these projects and learn how large scale software projects are being built and maintained. What are world class engineering standards and how they can learn just by observing and participating.
How does this translate to the FOSS United community?
- If we look at our community, we have very few idealists. Probably @Abhas is the only one who truly “gets” the idea of software rights, and is passionate about living his ideals. The rest of are just regular folks. (edit: another person I can think of is @Arya_Kiran)
- We have very very little industry collaboration - because we don’t have a critical mass of leaders inside companies who believe that FOSS is a great way to build software. There are very few @knadh s out there who are part of companies that have scale and understand the dynamics of cross industry collaboration. Even though there are several large companies now using ERPNext, I don’t think they look at community as a medium for long term sustainability (except Zerodha of course). The closest we have to industry collaboration is the End Software Patents initiative. While we have had some support from academia, we have found very few takers in industry.
- The last 3-5 years has seen a few projects who have come up with the idea of building sustainable businesses around FOSS (or strictly, open source) projects - this seems to be a fast growing and acceptable model in India and we have a few startups here - Chatwoot, Hoppscotch, Tooljet and others (including Frappe). FOSS United can provide an excellent platform to launch new “open source” projects get access to early users and mentoring. This seems to be already a win.
- Learning is where we have the fastest traction - because India has a large and enthusiastic student population and they don’t have many opportunities to interact and learn from world class engineers.
Here is the map of what this community probably looks like
To build a sustainable / prosperous community we need to work at all 4 levels. Doing community events is a great win for all parties. Having an active online community is great for education and open source. These are the things we have been doing right.
The question then becomes how do we drive more industry collaborations and create awareness about software rights? Or maybe we just wait for those leaders to come and drive this organically or can we do something to make this platform more open?
The broad vision is to build a community where all the 4 levels are activated. I am not sure how.
Just some random thoughts, comments welcome.