16 Oct 2003 Xorian   » (Master)

Maintaining free software for pay can be tough.

I guess I'm lucky that my employer is willing to subsidize my pet project by paying me to work on it. Then again, they depend on it for a project that they seem to think is pretty important.

On the one hand, there's all the stuff my fellow team members at work need. Bug fixes and performance enhancements mostly. The code is plenty mature, but we're in that last 10% that takes 90% of the time. It has pretty much all the features they need, though there's a trickle of new ones for them.

On the other hand, there's a boat load of stuff I see that would make Vesta more attractive to others: installable packages for popular distributions, secure authentication, ports to new platforms, a make-based source distribution, tools to help with merging branches, notification/triggers/process control, the list is pretty long.

I'm basically fully occupied with the first category. It's difficult for me to find much time to spend on features that won't directly affect the effectiveness of my co-workers (not to mention justifying spending time on such things). Then again, the more people use Vesta, the better the chance is that people outside my company contribute to its maintenance (bringing down long-term workload). It's sort of a catch-22: working on the first category is higher priority, but the second category is what will get more people using and contributing to the project, reducing the amount of stuff in both categories.

I'm thinking about this a lot becuase last month a user outside my company advanced an idea on something in the second category, and I sort of said "Sounds great, but don't expect me to do it". Rationally, I know I have limited time and I have to avoid committing to implementing significant extensions. Emotionally, I really wish I could devote a month or two to implementing the features this user obviously needs. But I just can't see myself having the time to do that.

So I said what I said and went back to the umpteen different issues I'm up to my elbows in. I can't help feeling like I made a big mistake there. I'm desperate for more users (and, more to the point, contributors), but at the end of the day I have so little energy left to do what it takes to go get them. We've got the better mousetrap, and, contrary to the saying but as is so often the case, the world cares not.

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