Things are changing
On August 17, 2022 the FreeCAD community celebrated its 20th anniversary as an open source project. That was an important milestone … and it passed with hardly anyone noticing. There was another important development last year and it barely got any more attention, even though it was far more consequential.
I'm referring to the creation of the FPA: FreeCAD Project Association. The FPA is a legal entity whose mission is to advance and protect the FreeCAD project. Besides being able to receive donations and pay for services, the FPA has a formal membership and decision making structure and this matters.
FreeCAD is changing
For many years the FreeCAD project operated as a loose confederacy of core developers. Decisions were made by consensus. Development moved forward when someone had an itch to scratch and the project philosophy was, "It's done when it's done." That kind of loose government served the project pretty well. Until it didn't.
As the number of developers grew and the codebase got larger, consensus was harder to reach. Some problems defied consensus altogether. Too often, it felt like nobody was steering the ship. Many people wanted to see a clearer roadmap. They wanted leadership to address those thorny issues. Without a roadmap it was too risky for commercial companies to build around FreeCAD. Without leadership, there was no confidence that big problems would be addressed and industrial users were unwilling to adopt FreeCAD for mission-critical use.
Introducing the FPA
The FPA was launched with modest goals. The founders wanted to avoid a heavy-handed dictatorial style. They want to encourage the kind of collaboration and consensus that has made the project productive and fun for two decades. They also recognized that FreeCAD is maturing as a project and some formal structure is necessary. I was honored to be part of that process and deeply impressed with the wisdom and care that the founders took to balance these interests.
While the FPA is still finding its footing, it has already started taking steps that should have everyone excited.
First, the FPA has money and the willingness to fund development. With it, they can encourage focused effort in areas where organic interest hasn't emerged.
Even more importantly, the FPA is working to get developers together in the same room. Zoom, email, and issue trackers are the tools we live with and they work well for day-to-day operations. But there's nothing like face-to-face meetings for building trust, resolving conflict, and making long term plans. The ability to work face-to-face is one area where commercial development has a clear advantage over open source software. The FPA recognizes this and is taking steps to change it.
FreeCAD Day at FOSDEM
The first ever 'FreeCAD Day' will be held prior to FOSDEM on February 2, 2023. The day will be organized as an unconference. People attending the event will propose and decide what to do on premises. There will be plenty of opportunities for side discussions.
FOSDEM brings together developers from hundreds of open source projects. It provides a fantastic opportunity to discuss collaboration opportunities with other projects, learn from their successes and from their mistakes, and meet like-minded folks.
Ondsel in the room
The dream of building a commercial company around FreeCAD has been around for a long time. It's one way that developers could build not just a world-class CAD solution but their own careers. Now that Ondsel is finally launched as an open core company we are excited to partner with the FPA and the FreeCAD community at FreeCAD Day 1.0. We look forward to meeting, collaborating, dreaming, and building great things together.