Forking an open source project: regaining internal motivation

Can forking a free software project enable you to regain your internal motivation to work on a project? My current theory is that if you work on free software, then you get paid to work on it and then you get laid off, that you would work on a different project. Because the first one is no longer good enough to get paid, then it must not be good enough to work on for free.

If my theory is correct, then I think there’s a great trend going on. Ex-employees are getting around this mental block by blaming the failure (the fact that they can’t get paid to work on it anymore) on the company’s strategy and forking the project to create a new one that they can then justify working on.

One of the strengths of open source software licenses has been that you can fork the project. If at some point in the future, you don’t like what the project is doing, you can take your copy of the code and go do your own thing. Many have argued that it’s that right to leave that makes people work hard to get along. Nobody wants to fork a project is the theory.

Recently most of the forks we’ve seen have come from ex-employees who are unhappy with the direction their previous employer is taking the project.

For example, take Mandriva/Mageia. Part of the Mandriva community, including ex-employees of the company, is forking Mandriva and creating Mageia, a new Linux distribution.

Their website doesn’t say exactly why they are forking but says they no longer trust the company’s motivations. The move seems to be prompted by layoffs:

Most employees working on the distribution were laid off when Edge-IT was liquidated. We do not trust the plans of Mandriva SA anymore and we don’t think the company (or any company) is a safe host for such a project.

Certainly I can see how people who have been laid off would no longer trust the company.

It does look like Mandriva is restructuring to give  more power to their community. However, I doubt they will reverse their decision to move the desktop development to Brazil. In addition to having lots of great free software developers in Brazil, I bet development costs are much cheaper in Brazil.

In the mean time, the ex-Mandriva employees have created a project worth working on for free, Mageia. Something they care about and can invest in, an independent, community run distribution with a community and an associated nonprofit organization.

I wish Mageia the best of luck with their project and I wish Mandriva the best of luck with their company. I think they will both solve different problems in different ways. And I’m really glad that the Mageia will continue working on what they love even if they are not currently getting paid to do that. Their project is worth it.