Bryan Lunduke had a column in Network World last week comparing Linux software repositories to proprietary app stores. His point is a valid one: just because software was once available, that doesn’t mean it will be in perpetuity.
It’s tempting to argue that his example isn’t a fair comparison because the repos in question were hosted by Nokia, who was making money off device sales, instead of being a community project. That’s a weak argument, though, because community is no guarantee of longevity. Community provides some extra momentum, but if Red Hat decided it was going to pull its support for Fedora tomorrow, would the community be able to keep the infrastructure running? Would Ubuntu continue without Canonical? Perhaps, at least in the short term. At least in those cases, community mirrors would allow the current state to be maintained for a while.
This isn’t really a problem with repositories, though. If you had to go to the project’s website to get the code, you’re still in the same boat. Or in many small boats that are the same. At any rate, software you get from the Internet is always going to be at risk of going poof. This is true for both commercial and open source software.
Somewhere in my parents’ house, there are still probably 3.5″ floppies of DOS games I bought at Target for $5. If I had a 3.5″ drive, I’d see if the disks are still readable. But the software I actually use? It all comes from Internet distribution. I guess good backup hygiene includes keeping the appropriate install media stashed away somewhere.