.NET Open Source – A Mugs Game

If you're looking for help with C#, .NET, Azure, Architecture, or would simply value an independent opinion then please get in touch here or over on Twitter.

I recognise my own motivations have at least as large a bearing on my views as the behaviour of vendors and so I should note that this is a purely personal perspective and from someone who currently largely operates in the .NET and Microsoft space. Your mileage may differ.

If you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed a growing disillusionment on my part with open source software – not its usefulness but rather the culture, business and economics.

OSS used to be a threat to big tech but, particularly with the growth of the cloud as a business model, its become a source of ideas, free products to package and host, and free labour for big tech. They figured out how to monteise it. The old Microsoft mantra of embrace, extend, extinguish is back but now applied to open source (the recent debacles around AppGet and, the excellent, Farmer are recent examples of this).

During a discussion on Twitter around this @HowardvRooijen made this comment:

Part of the issue is, 20 years in, everyone is still focusing on low level components… They are fun to hobby code (and then increasingly wearisome), if you move up the value stack MS are less likely to compete.

https://twitter.com/HowardvRooijen/status/1274412962439192578?s=20

He’s right but for me, emotionally, OSS was a sandpit where you could still almost scratch that 8-bit low level itch in a useful way. In someways a holdout of the “good old days” of the bedroom coder and there was a certain spirit to it that, for me, has been lost.

If you move up the value chain you’re talking about building products or things that more obviously can be turned into products. If these things are the things that are “safer” from big tech and Microsoft then absolutely we should not be creating them for free. Thats our income, our livelihood.

I have switched (more later) to move up the value chain with my cycling performance website but I currently have no intention of making this OSS. If it starts to get traction and feels worth it (i.e. it provides enough value to warrant a subscription) I will absolutely look to charge for it. OSS doesn’t help me build it and it doesn’t help me sell it – so it doesn’t make sense to.

What of the .NET Foundation? Is it a beacon of hope? Christ no. From its maturity model to silence over recent events (and seeming ignorance of the collateral damage of things like the AppGet issue) its very slanted towards a) Microsoft interests and b) the consumption of OSS. I’ve seen little support for small contributors. I was really concerned by the approach to the Maturity Model as that was entirely about trying to get contributors to “professionalise” to ease the adoption by “risk averse businesses”. Translation: get contributors to do more work so that profitable business can benefit.

I joined the Foundation with the idea that I could speak from the inside. In reality I’ve struggled to find the will to engage and I’ll almost certainly let my membership lapse at the end of its current term. The only thing I can see keeping me in is their support for user groups.

So where does this leave me? Basically I’m out. I’m done with it. At this point I think .NET OSS is a mugs game. I’m conciously upping my sponsorships of OSS projects I use so I continue to give something back but I’m not participating in this any more. There’s no good outcome here for contributors.

I’ll try and organise a handover of Function Monkey but I feel very dispirited by things at the moment and, frankly, am struggling to look at it.

I’ll continue to work on community contributions but in the form of writing and videos. But heck I’m even thinking that has to lead somewhere deliberate.

Where does that leave others? If you’re planning on starting a new OSS project I’d first encourage you to think long and hard about why and at the very least reconcile yourself with the likely end game (obscurity, hijacked in some way by Microsoft, hired perhaps) and understand that you’ve given all the value away. Are you really ok with that? Maybe you can build a consultancy business round it but history shows how hard this is and I think its getting harder.

I think there are easier and more effective ways to achieve most (if not all) of the outcomes OSS contribution might lead to.

Finally I’ll finish by saying: I think there are plenty of well meaning people at Microsoft. I think most of those promoting OSS from within Microsoft do so meaning well but ultimately as an organisation they have a very specific business model around open source software (absolutely its been discussed at senior levels of the business) and its one that is at odds with how I at least, perhaps naively, saw the “spirit” of open source software.

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