A long long time ago I was quite heavily involved in developing a piece of open source software called Rosegarden (the history of which is pretty well documented). It was, and still is, a piece of software that helps you compose, record and create music and it originally came into being during a final year University project that Chris and Andy did back way before when there was a Linux – back when everyone still thought Macs were just for accountants or graphic designers.
I got involved in the first steps of Rosegarden under Linux in 1995 and that snowballed into working on it full time for a while during the early 2000s. I’ve not been involved with the project in any big capacity since about 2006 but I’m pleased to say that the project is still going strong under the watchful eye of D. Michael McIntyre who has been the self-appointed custodian of all things Rosegarden since the rest of us swanned off to have children and do real jobs and have all the fun you can’t have when you’re sweating over an open source cookpot.
Rosegarden is now, what, about 18 years old? About to come of age or already there. Perhaps it’s coming to the end of the road, perhaps it just needs a nudge in the right direction? I’m keen to see it continue and I’ve been doing a small amount of work on a Windows version but the days when we could sit around throwing days and weeks and coding challenges are way behind us. Challenges need to be bite-sized, or life-sized, and Rosegarden might be just too much of a monster to continue. The last time I looked there were over 200k lines of code in there.
So the question is – where to now? And from a quick search I can see that Rosegarden is not the only Open Source audio project thinking the same thing. The question being is there any incentive to continue? Is there a will and if there’s a will – what is the way?
I’m ambivalent about Kickstarter for software projects because I’m not really sure who it benefits the most. For example I love the idea of Light Table maybe because that’s because I’m working on something similar myself (which, like Light Table, will be paid software) but I don’t want to take people’s money up front for it. However for a project such as Rosegarden – where there already is a popular piece of software there already and it’s looking for a way to survive – is this a more valid way for a project to fund itself? If so how should it be structured to attract and retain developers? Who decides who gets paid and how? To me the accountabilty and governance of a Kickstarter software project is still something of a mystery and perhaps we will see a backlash occuring at some point if and when projects fail to deliver? From the Kickstarter guidelines it is suggested that a project should ‘under promise and over deliver’. Perception is everything and with some big ticket Kickstarter projects currently running who is to say what the perception will be in a year’s time for crowd funding?
For Rosegarden perhaps nothing needs to be done other than a holiday for developers and a dose of enthusiasm. However structure always helps any development be it open source, commercial or both. Without vision and leadership things will drift and what helps to keep everyone sweet is an occasional pay day too. So – to Kickstart or not to Kickstart?