Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The Demise of nDoc

Some of my fellow finalists have blogged about their intended usage of nDoc as a documentation tool for their source code. nDoc is hugely popular for automatic documentation of .NET code, using Visual Studio's support for XML comments in the source code. A week ago, nDoc went into a coma, when its single maintainer, Kevin Downs, announced his resignation from the open-source project. The problem, which in many cases are symptomatic of open-source projects, is that a majority of these projects are driven by one or a few enthusiast individuals, and their lifespan is directly related to how long it lasts until these individuals lose interest. It is rare to see a dying project being rescued by another developer, who keeps it running. Problems selling the software is the usual reason for the death of a commercial application. This sort of death is less painful for the software market, since the user base is potentially much smaller.

The love-hate relationship between open-source developers and small software vendors is about if software should be free or not. Developers of commercial software feel that the open-source community is undervaluing their work. Often they are frightened to see their carefully designed and evolved application being blatantly copied by an open-source initiative. This is not stopping the same developers from using open-source software though, no matter if it is a freely licensed library for their commercial software or an open source office suite or web browser.

Kevin Downs resignation is sad for the wide user-base of nDoc, but there is a light in the end of the tunnel. Microsoft recently launched a technology preview of Sandcastle, a project with a lot of similarities to nDoc. Sandcastle is bound to be more responsive to technology changes than nDoc was, where users have been waiting a long time for .NET 2.0 support. Here we see an example of an open-source product being replaced by a project that is being developed by a regular company. In recent time, we have been seeing a lot of stories that are the other way around. Kevin mentions in his "resignation letter" that if donations had been bigger he would have had an incentive to continue with the project. That leads me to ask why he not changes the license of nDoc and starts to charge for it?

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