A solution for sustaining Free Software forge development

Developing a software forge such as GitLab or Gitea can easily keep dozens of volunteers and paid staff occupied full time daily. Creating Free Software forges and federating them to make centralized forges obsolete does not require less resources. Funding so many people in a sustainable way could be very challenging if it was not for the French governmental incentive for R&D.

An employee of a French company who wants to help Free Software forges succeed can be delegated to a project during a few months every year. And during that time the governmental incentive for R&D pays for their salary. There is no limit in time nor is it a competition: every company is eligible. The only condition is that their goal is to solve a problem for which there is no known solution at this time. And we know that federating Free Software forges is one of them.

I hope people with various backgrounds employed by French companies will jump at this opportunity. Now is the perfect time to take part in this revolution. I’ll wait for you in the the chatroom.

It is not a theoretical idea, it is how I’ve been paid part time to work on forge federation for the past year. Any employee in France can do the same, if their company agrees. And why wouldn’t they since this time is paid for? If you are not employed by a French company, maybe you can apply for a job: there are hundreds of organizations (for profit or not) that specialize in Free Software and you’ll get a chance to do the same.

There is a wide range of skills needed, not just developers. It all starts with User Research to figure out what matters to users instead of implementing whatever is in the imagination of the developer. And while the codebase is being worked on, UX designers look for a sensible way for the user to go from point A to point B, to go from clicking to file an issue to submitting it, creating a satisfying user experience instead of the disconcerting mazes we, software developers, naturally tend to make. The UI designer can then turn this into a beautiful and accessible interface that can be translated in many languages. Easing the communication between everyone is greatly helped by mentors and community managers who can also attempt to improve the diversity of the people participating: an ongoing challenge in Free Software.

A forge is not a monolithic object, it is made of a wide range of independent components tightly linked together. People can choose which one to work on, depending on what they find more appealing. The software forge, the central piece of the puzzle, is surrounded by an ever growing set of tools that are essential to developers such as Continuous Integration (Woodpecker), Online Translation Platform (Weblate), etc. Together they are the environment with no strings attached where the developers are in control of their tools. The opposite of a centralized service caught in a web of third party proprietary services.

The French governmental incentive for R&D makes it possible for federated forges to mature despite the magnitude of the effort, spanning over years and involving hundreds of people. As it matures, it will gradually become mainstream and part of the Free Software service ecosystem, like so many simpler components such as SMtP server or a monitoring system. As the market for services around forges grows, they will become less dependent on governmental support and be sustained by a healthy relationship between users and developers.