So, galaxies exhaust but then there are new galaxies, and the thing, as a whole, remains
unchanged, in a way. Sure, it's not the same galaxy, and nothing that was in the old
galaxy remains, but if you avoid specifics, things are the same.
I feel the same thing happens in the free software universe. The two forces are reaction
Reaction is the creative force. Most, if not all, free software is reactive. It itches,
I scratch, scratching is reactive. There are many examples:
- There is no free desktop! Let's create KDE!
- KDE is not the right kind of free, sort of! Let's create GNOME!
- KDE and GNOME are too heavy, bloated and whatever! Let's create XFCE!
- XFCE is not as lean and mean as before! Let's create LXDE!
- LXDE is (we'll find something) let's create WHATEVER-DE!
This even happens within a project:
- Hey, we created KDE!
- KDE 1.x has no object model and GNOME does, let's do KDE 2.0 on CORBA!
- Hey, that sucked, let's do KDE 2.0 on DCOP and KParts!
- Well, that's old an crufty, let's do KDE 3.0 cleaner!
- KDE 3.x looks old, let's throw all the UI away and do KDE 4!
And I am sure those familiar with any software product that has lived
long enough to go through major rewrites and upheaval can do similar
However, sometimes, the complains just don't go away.
- Netscape 4.x is slow and crufty! We rewrote it as Mozilla!
- Mozilla (SeaMonkey) is slow and crufty! We rewrote it as Firefox!
- Firefox is slow and crufty! We wrote Chrome using webkit!
And guess what people say about Chrome? It's slow.
So, the lesson there seems to me that writing a lightweight, generally useful,
web browser is impossible. Why? Because of features.
As projects age, they grow features. Like the strange ear and nose hair men start
growing in their 30s, features are a fact of the lifecycle. And with features come
code, because that's how you do features.
And code is a liability, as (I hope) you all know. The more code you have, the
more expensive it is to add things, and to be swift about improving your
application. Most successful projects die, or grow senescent, hobbled by the weight
of their features.
So how does a project stay young? I can think of a few ways.
It may have a benign (or evil, for that matter) dictator, with the right
amount of hostility towards features (Linux). It may be so exquisitely
modular that features don't couple with each other (emacs). It may
reinvent itself every 5 years and throw everything away (KDE). It
may have a very clear focus on one feature and a culture around it
And for each of those mechanisms, there are incountable examples of projects
with too annoying dictators, projects overengineered to absurdity,
stalled rewrites that never release and absolute focus on a feature noone
Sorry, the universe is a tough place.