Medical ‘Fear of Forking’

In open source computing there is an F word: Fork, which means that developers of a software project reach an impasse, and split the project into two versions. Much like a fork in the road, the former development group splits and goes their separate ways. Forking strikes fear into the hearts of open source advocates because it dilutes engineering resources and adds to confusion. At the same time, it can save a project by letting it flow past an obstruction. ZDnet has an article about the recent Samba fork and gauges reaction to it both good and bad. The picture in medical open source is somewhat different.

With 43+ different open source medical projects, the problem is not one of forking, but of converging the various projects. Judging by many comments on this site, FreePM’s discussion list and the Openhealth-list the will is there.

At the same time, it may be premature. There is no clear front runner and many good projects have yet to go beta. Two obvious convergences are Tim Cook’s FreePM and Andrew Po-jung Ho’s OIO projects which are based upon Zope and seem to compliment each other. The two project leaders are working together on such a convergence.

There does seem to be enough cohesion to converge some projects into others, especially on the Openhealth-list. However, when the inevitable convergence of many current projects might occur is anyone’s guess and depends on many factors: project fatigue, momentum and funding among others. Project leader ego’s are another.

If open source medical software is to succeed, this convergence will be a necessary event and will strengthen available engineering talent instead of diluting it. With open source medical software being a project that is at least as large as the Linux operating system itself, forkers beware.

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