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GitHub’s mobile app to go open source? Definitely “maybe”

Commentary: Not all software makes sense as open source, but a GitHub mobile app just might.

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Image: Allmy, Shutterstock / Allmy

In a world increasingly powered by open source software, there’s still plenty of software that really doesn’t need to be open source. Or, perhaps put a better way, there is software that could be open source and no one would care or contribute.

GitHub’s new mobile app probably doesn’t fall into that category. While most developers won’t necessarily have interest or aptitude in contributing to a voice memo or word processing app, it’s a fair bet that they’d have plenty to say (and code) when it comes to GitHub.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“Maybe”

Soon after Ryan Nystrom, GitHub’s director of engineering, announced the new mobile app for iOS and Android, with the promise of “TONS more features in upcoming app updates,” it was clear that some developers wanted just one big feature: An open source license. 

Andrei Verdes, an Android developer, for example, wondered whether the code was open source. “It’s not right now,” Nystrom replied.

Tim Oliver, an iOS developer, asked if there were plans to make GitHub’s mobile app open source. Nystrom, tantalizingly, answered with “Maybe.” 

That “maybe” could actually work for GitHub because, well, GitHub! After all, so much of today’s open source software development happens on/through GitHub. Each of those developers has a vested interest in improving the GitHub experience (mobile and otherwise) so as to improve the work they’re able to do through it. 

Early in my open source career (2004?), someone (I believe it was Dan Frye, then the head of IBM’s Linux Technology Center, but I might be misremembering) told me that for open source to thrive, there needs to be a sufficient body of developers with interest and aptitude in a given project. So, for example, Linux has done well because every developer needs an operating system, and quite a few are capable of contributing. Ditto such things as content management systems, web browsers, etc.

Oh, and mobile apps that help them build better software.

I suspect if Nystrom had announced a new GitHub billing app, the interest (and aptitude) would be far less. Looking through the features developers are asking Nystrom and team to build, it might be worth opening up development in a way that allows add-ons/extensions, if not pull requests to the main code base itself. Of course, not all contributions would be helpful or useful to GitHub, and it’s just as possible that Nystrom and team might find it easier to build on their own without a mass of incoming pull requests.

But “maybe,” just maybe, GitHub’s mobile app could make sense as an open source project in a way that a GitHub time management app never would.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates to my employment there.

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