Maybe not at first sight (deviating from FHS still seems to scare away people), but Nix/NixOS/NixPkgs can truly be considered as one of today’s most significant open source software ecosystems when it comes to independent software deployment. It does not only provide an OS, but can also be an alternative to containers like Podman or Docker or IaC tools like Ansible. For professionals, even if there is no funding for contributing, this can create a sustainable incentive to stay involved since making sure that the ecosystem is usable and up-to-date pays off when it can be used for everyday’s work.
That’s at least the case if you can trust in getting something back. Traditionally, the way to ensure this were copyleft licenses. Even in case of severely changed incentives like important contributors being bought out by competing corporations, the software license would ensure that the development time invested is not lost, and everyone involved would be able to earn the fruits of their work. No one involved would be able to just take away previous work of others based on new decisions that could not be anticipated when the previous work was done. In such a scenario, openness is enforced through the license.
Within the Nix* ecosystem, we don’t use a copyleft license. But that doesn’t seem to be the problem. Today’s challenges are different, and are rooted in platform competition. The work on NixOS takes place on different platforms like Discourse, Github or Matrix, maybe also on Stackexchange or social media. What happens if one platform (or those community members focusing on it) would decide not to fully cooperate with the others anymore? Would we have mechanisms to protect those who invested their time, who were trusting in platform interoperability being preserved? Or would a subset of the community be able to lock the others out from benefitting from their previous investment in our ecosystem?
As the reach of the project grows, these may be questions for which we want to find answers, so we can preserve a vibrant and productive community that can outlast when the incentives among its participants change.