OSS heirlooms

As we all know, an heirloom is an item that is passed from generation to generation. In the world of OSS, there are a lot of heirloom tools out in the wild. Their long-since-departed* sponsors / builders have ensured their legacy survives with the tools they have built.

In the traditional context (eg jewelry, furniture, etc), the object is a valuable one. In the OSS context, there are two styles of heirloom:

  1. The valuable one – the priceless gems that are still performing its task with such aplomb that nobody questions replacing it. It gets passed on to the next generation whilst other higher priority enhancements get built around it. The constant march of technology makes this a difficult achievement to attain
  2. The entrenched one – where it has long since reached technical obsolescence but is so tightly glued into the rest of the OSS suite that it can’t be removed, no matter how hard the next generation tries

Which category do your OSS heirlooms fit into? Does the latter actually fit the criteria of being an heirloom?

The skeptic in me sometimes wonders whether a majority of vendors are (mistakenly??) seeking the latter rather than the former.

To be completely honest, I’ve spent so much of my OSS working life working on new / improved OSS suites that I haven’t taken the opportunity to sit back and analyse what makes the valuable heirloom OSS so successful and unique. I would guess that it would be a mix simplicity, efficiency, being fit-for-purpose, robustness / resiliency and possibly others. But for those of you out there who have worked closely on these mythical beasts, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a valuable OSS heirloom worthy of being passed down to future generations.

* Departed in the sense of having left the organisation, not this world

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