Let us mourn for freshmeat.net

UPDATE 6/19/10: Lisa Hoover tweeted at me earlier this week “… Consider the source before you believe this crap.” I do plan to keep an eye on freshmeat; I sure hope she’s right. MM

Robin “Roblimo” Miller reported this weekend that the future looked bad for pioneering free software repository freshmeat.net.

Geek.net, the parent company of SourceForge.net, Slashdot.org, ThinkGeek.com, Geek.com, freshmeat.net, and ohloh.net, has told employees that it will be closing freshmeat.net and ohloh.net. This information has not yet been released to the public, but we’ve heard it from more than one Geek.net employee.

While not exactly shocking, it is a sad moment for many longtime Linux geeks. In the days before broadband Internet connections and automatic distribution updates, freshmeat (yes, it’s still there as I write this) was the go-to site for new and interesting open source software. A decade ago, when I was first getting acquainted with Linux, you’d read about assorted new projects to make a Linux version of, say, a desktop publisher. The article, whether it was online or in print (usually  Linux Journal), would invariably conclude with a link to the project’s freshmeat page. This is how I found the Scribus desktop publisher, among other things.

In those days around the turn of the century, you’d be lucky if the developer(s) made up an RPM package for easy installation into a Red Hat Linux system. Sometimes those RPMs would even work on SUSE Linux. More often, though, you’d just get a tarball; the source code bundled into a GZip archive with standard instructions to use make to compile the code into your system. Occasionally your idiot scribe would get these applications to work without breaking any other important piece of the system.

It’s not like Linux was brand new, but the idea of ordinary people using Linux and other free software for ordinary tasks outside of programming and networking was still a bit odd. That was also what made freshmeat exciting–Granted it was cooler to help develop it, but you really did feel like you were on the cutting edge simply downloading this stuff and trying it out.

Roblimo’s piece outlines the corporate history of freshmeat, and some of the changes that brought the site to this point. I’d guess that the development of ever-easier ways of adding software to a Linux system (including openSUSE’s zypper, and the always terrific and ever-improving apt-get) played its part too.

There are lots of projects that debuted on freshmeat that never became household names, but the site probably inspired more than a few of today’s army of software developers. For now, let us have a moment of silence for this fine project, and the people who have worked on it over the years. Many thanks!