A few months after I released my first .NET open source project (a niche one targeting the Italian fintech world), I was contacted by a representative of Team Digitale, the digital innovation branch of the Italian Public Administration. He suggested joining the Developers Italia initiative and moving my project to the their organization on GitHub “to enjoy enhanced visibility and broaden the audience”. I politely refused. I did not doubt my counterpart’s good faith. At the same time, I was concerned about the possible long-term consequences of a seemingly easy move. Moving a GitHub project away from your profile or an organization you control means ceding control over it. I was assured I would keep control of the project. But what happens if sometime in the future, when people in charge might even have changed, they revoke my access rights? As long as I am involved with my project, I should be in control. Also, I was not convinced that the move would help promote the project. We live in the search-engine age; people search for solutions to their problems. I was, and still am, confident that if I did my due diligence and my project is any good, people will find it1.
Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario pictured above, or worse, appears to be happening these days, not to me, but to the many open-source maintainers who, in recent years, agreed to move their projects under the .NET Foundation umbrella. The drama is unfolding in these very same hours, and it is painful. On my Twitter feed, I first noticed Eric Sink’s note on the issue. The next day, a detailed article surfaces on The Register. Then, just yesterday, the Executive Director of the DNF posted an I am Sorry message on GitHub, which most maintainers consider disappointing, to say the least. Maintainers see the ownership of their projects being moved over to DNF. Some projects are transferred to GitHub Enterprise for no apparent reason. DNF Executive Director opened a Pull Request, which was closed by the maintainers and then reopened (twice!) by the Director (who also happens to be a former maintainer). You can get all the details at the links above. The I am Sorry thread is especially worth reading.
I think the foundation is well-intentioned. I question whether independent open-source projects should belong there, though—maybe very few major and commercially inclined ones. To offer legal protection, DNF needs some control over its projects, and that’s something not every maintainer is willing to give away. On the other hand, maintainers might have underestimated the consequences of moving their projects to DNF. I can feel their pain.
Overall, this is all concerning. As someone commented on Hacker News, with the .NET ecosystem, Microsoft has made so many surprisingly good moves in recent years that there is room for a couple of fuck-ups, but this is a big one. Besides, most maintainers involved in this drama are highly influential and very well respected individuals in the .NET world. The DNF needs to get its acts together and react immediately, at the risk of losing all of its credibility.
Update: Executive director has resigned. Updates from DNF are due as earsly as next week.
- One year later, someone from the same team got in touch and proposed the move again. I refused for the same reasons. The story is actually longer than that. A few months later, I was also invited to join Team Digitale. I even had a brief video call with their recruiter. I chukled when he realized I was a grey beard, not the typical just-out-of-college boy or girl they usually head-hunt. [return]