October 19, 2000

Orphaned free software finds a home

Author: JT Smith

By Tony Granata
News Editor

In the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph and company stumble on an island of misfit toys, which nobody wants to play with anymore. Well, there's also an island of orphaned free software, called Unmaintained Free Software.

Just like in the classic, free software-related packages that have become orphaned or unmaintained sit here and dream of a new owner or maintainer. A orphaned project can happen for a number of reasons: Projects become obsolete, the maintainer losses interest or lacks the knowledge or time to see the project to fruition. In fact, the site offers links to article that can tell you "Why do Free Software projects fail?" or "How to Write Unmaintainable Code," a tutorial of how not to write your code.

Unmaintained Free Software

The brain child of Uwe Hermann, Unmaintained Free Software's first incarnation in 1999 was called Unmaintained Linux. "I saw several projects which weren't actively developed or even 'officially' declared dead," Herman says. "This bugged me as I didn't like the idea that all the work and time spent on those projects should be wasted. Therefore, I wanted to create an index of such unmaintained projects where other developers could take over 'dead' projects and continue developing them." Today the site does just that, indexing all unmaintained free software-related content it can find or is submitted and helps find new maintainers/developers.

Among items indexed on the site are software sources, patches, and binary packages; several types of documentation; bug lists; wish lists; and to-do lists.

Currently, there are 38 applications on the Web site, broken down into subcategories like business, documentation, games, and graphics. On the site you can find an orphaned app for an old Asteroid game clone, an X window manager derived from twm, or a Win32 system-tray CD player. "All projects on the site start out with a status of 'unmaintained' or 'obsolete,'" says Hermann. "If and when they find a new maintainer, they are marked as 'maintained.'" To date, eight of the 38 applications have been picked up.

Information on each project is listed by category. Licenses, downloads, homepages and a brief description on each app are available.

The Buzz

This summer Hermann announced the site on Kuro5hin and since then the site has been mentioned/announced on several other tech sites, including this endorsement from Slashdot: "A very good idea that I'm pleased to see implemented. There's a lot of orphaned software out there ... some of it because it's pretty
useless, but others just because people move on. Hopefully a site like this can help us breath life back into the good ones."

Others singing the praises of the site include those developers who have picked up and maintained a projects on the site. "I think that the Web site offers a really good service to the Open Source community," explains Stefanos Zachariadis, a final year Computer Science undergraduate in England. "Developers do not have to re-invent the wheel and lines of code are not wasted. Service was great, I got in touch with the old project maintainer, agreed to take on the project, and then I just notified
unmaintained.sourceforge.net's webmaster/maintainer and he had the page updated. That's all!"

"Sites such as the one at http://unmaintained.sourceforge.net/ are particularly useful for the Open Source community, I believe," says Cameron McCormack, who has taken over development of zicq on the site. "I know that personally I've started many pieces of software, only to either lose interest in them or to find myself without enough time to continue work on them. The time that has already been committed to the unfinished projects can be spared from waste by letting others use the code, and become maintainer of the project."

He adds: "In my case, the site has proved to be particularly helpful. Work on zicq seemed to have stopped, and I couldn't find any sites on the program on the Web. Rather than fork the project (perhaps unnecessarily if the project was still being worked on out of the limelight), I was able to take over the project after seeing the message on the Unmaintained Software site."

A home for every toy, errr, open project

In the classic Christmas story, Santa comes to the rescue and finds homes for all the orphaned toys. In this story, Hermann realizes the importance of the site isn't merely to find a maintainer for all orphaned projects, but simply offer a resource for developers to draw on. "The site needs some more polishing and fixing," he says. "Then I might make the site theme able and customizable. And a feature I'd like to see implemented soon, is that downloads and site views of the different projects are tracked. This allows you to find out which projects
most people are interested in."

McCormack goes a step further: "Another use for the site is ideas! Sometimes you'll be wanting to work on
some software project, yet have no idea what to do. This 'coder's block' is, in fact, what I had before I started work on zicq. It was useful to have a list of entire projects which were orphaned and needed work on, rather than simply some list of actively maintained projects with a 'to do' list."

(Disclosure: SourceForge, where Unmaintained Free Software is hosted, is a sister site of NewsForge's.)


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