Open-source Your Abandonware

There are a lot of text editors for OS X. Coda, BBEdit, Smultron, SubEthaEdit, TextMate, Sublime Text, and TextWrangler are some of the well-known ones. Almost all of these editors are targeted to developers. Almost all of them are closed-source.

This is a problem. Let me explain why.

A new editor comes out. The basic features are polished, and development is ongoing. The authors release new features often, and promise that more are in the pipeline. Sure, the editor costs money, but people are happy to pay for quality. The project thrives, along with a community of developers who build plugins and extensions.

Eventually, the authors slow down or lose interest. Maybe they’re working on a rewrite. Maybe their priorities changed. Meanwhile, the editor languishes. Bugs don’t get fixed. Promised features never show up. The end result is a community using a piece of abandonware as their main editor. If they had the source code, the community could improve their editor. But they don’t, so they can’t.

Slowly, the community shrinks. People get fed up with a bug or a lacking feature. They switch to another editor. They re-learn keyboard shortcuts. They spend hours tweaking and customizing. They add and modify plugins. It’s likely months before they’re as productive as they used to be. This happens to thousands of users.

Thousands of users experiencing countless hours of frustration.

And it could be avoided if authors open-sourced these abandoned projects.

If you are the author of a closed-source editor, please pledge to release your source code when you stop releasing updates.

If you use a closed-source editor, contact the authors. Ask them to pledge to release their code.

Martin Hedenfalk open-sourced his editor, Vico. I hope others follow suit. I doubt he’ll do it, but I’d love it if Allan Odgaard released the source for TextMate 1.5.

Many of the editors I mentioned are still maintained to various degrees. Some of them aren’t. What’s important is that the life expectancy of these editors is much shorter than Vim or Emacs. If you use a closed-source editor, it is almost certain that you will be forced to change editors in the future. Your choices are few. You can grin and bear it, switching editors every 5-10 years. You can switch to Vim or Emacs. Or you can try to raise expectations for abandoned software.

This post was expanded from a comment on Hacker News.

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