Why some open source projects fail: a case study in Slitaz

slitazSince I booted it the first time Slitaz has been my most favourite mini distro. However, since the release of Slitaz 4.0 (in April 2012), development has been very slow and there is no clear release schedule in the near future. To push a new release I put my efforts and cleared one of the major standstills: the new kernel configuration and an IDE related issue that was inherently a part of the new configuration and some reported bugs but clearly that wasn’t enough. A proposed beta is in a standstill due to a CDROM eject related issue (check here if you are interested in working on it) and it doesn’t seem like this is going anywhere. While I think that this should not be the reason why a beta release can’t be done (because USB is eventually going to seal the fate of CDs the same way the latter have done to floppies), officially I am not in a position to drive these decisions. However, from this experience I identified some probable reasons why an open source project might fail:

  • The project didn’t remain interesting enough for developers. I think Slitaz has lost its relevance due to strong competition from mini distros like Porteus. Though it isn’t as small as Slitaz, it is newer, more promising and being actively developed.
  • Reluctance to embrace the bleeding edge in fear of losing the backward compatibility. The kernel configuration I did for Slitaz was on 3.2 though their were later stable versions available. Maybe a fork with an older kernel could have been considered. In addition, there was not much interest in supporting newer technologies like UEFI.
  • Loss of visibility due to long absence from the news. I saw far too many users asking the status of the project in the forums but there was no concrete answer for that other than a lot of NULL talk on the reasons why there is no path. That leads to loss of interest in users; specially when alternatives like ArchBang, Linux Lite, Porteus are available.
  • The original developer(s) are gone and the new developers, even if interested need to start understanding things from the scratch. The completion path is too long to hold them.
  • What interested me more in Slitaz was the fact that it was developed independently on top of the kernel. However, now it seems that this was also its weakness. It did not have enough developers to backup and it never grew big enough to draw the attention as it would if it were an equally light and fast fork of any major distro like Arch Linux or Mandriva or Ubuntu.

Despite these I wish Slitaz all the best and hope that someone adds momentum to the release cycle and we see a Slitaz 5.0 someday.

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