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A major specificity of open source projects is that most past events are public, it makes them interesting to the point that it is starting to get attention from anthropologists and historians.

QUESTION: Are open source project history questions on-topic, even if not about licenses?

Examples:

  • Linux is "Copyright 1991 Linus Torvalds" but the earliest version on kernel.org is from 1993, where can I download earlier versions if there is any?
  • Started in 2007, ProjectA does not claim to be a fork of any prior project, but I have found a "Copyright 1996 SomeCompany" in a core source file. Was actually ProjectA forked from an older project made by SomeCompany? If yes what was its name and when was it forked?
  • Where was ProjectB maintained between 2004 (last Sourceforge commit) and 2010 (first Google Code commit)?
  • At what date that code was introduced in ProjectC? (difficult case that can't be solved by normal version control tools, for instance because project history seems to be lost)
  • Who have been the successive project leaders of SANE?

That QA has similar-sounding name, but both the question and the top-voted answer are about license history, which makes it more obviously on-topic.

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Linux is "Copyright 1991 Linus Torvalds" but the earliest version on kernel.org is from 1993, where can I download earlier versions if there is any?

Off-topic. This asks for an external resource, which is off-topic and we have a close reason for. I don't think much debate is needed on that score.

Started in 2007, ProjectA does not claim to be a fork of any prior project, but I have found a "Copyright 1996 SomeCompany" in a core source file. Was actually ProjectA forked from an older project made by SomeCompany? If yes what was its name and when was it forked?

I'd be fine with this one. Maybe someone here has experience with Project A; maybe someone is good at researching this kind of stuff. It has a concrete, non-opinion-based answer, and is narrow enough to fit nicely into one question. Fine by me.

Where was ProjectB maintained between 2004 (last Sourceforge commit) and 2010 (first Google Code commit)?

Sketchy. Some might construe this as an external resource request. I'll refrain from passing judgment on this one; it would largely depend on the content of the question.

At what date that code was introduced in ProjectC? (difficult case that can't be solved by normal version control tools, for instance because project history seems to be lost)

Possibly? Again, there's an element of external resource request in here, though it's nowhere near so strong. If the question itself could be worded well, this could fly.

Who have been the successive project leaders of SANE?

On-topic, but frankly not a great question. Unless this is insanely difficult to Google, I'd downvote this for a lack of research effort.

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These questions are on-topic if they are beyond a diff on easy-to-find source code.

The history of open source projects is a very particular field of study that only people familiar with open source will be able to investigate. Studying the history of an open source projects often requires a mix of:

  • open source governance knowledge,
  • mastering of version control tools,
  • and a deep understanding of how open source communities communicate and metamorphose over time.

Of course, normal questions requirements apply: a bad history question is a bad question, no doubt about this, but that's not a reason to also close the good ones.

"Don't ask here, just contact the maintainers directly" goes against the Stack Exchange principles of knowledge sharing. When history is not documented anywhere, asking the maintainers directly is a good idea, and the answer should be shared (with their permission) here for the benefit of all future visitors.

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    But this is not the "open source projects" stack exchange site, it's the "open source" stack exchange site - the focus is the movement and projects are only tangentially related. Questions about projects which don't directly related to the movement may not be on topic. The history of source code is not directly related to the FLOSS movement. – curiousdannii Feb 26 '16 at 6:05
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I think that most of these don't belong here.

  • Linux is "Copyright 1991 Linus Torvalds" but the earliest version on kernel.org is from 1993, where can I download earlier versions if there is any?

  • Who have been the successive project leaders of SANE?

These are essentially just requests for better Googling. If you've looked and can't find anything then it's unlikely any of the rest of us can either. Your best bet would be to email the appropriate people and ask directly.

  • Started in 2007, ProjectA does not claim to be a fork of any prior project, but I have found a "Copyright 1996 SomeCompany" in a core source file. Was actually ProjectA forked from an older project made by SomeCompany? If yes what was its name and when was it forked?

If this is all the question is, then I don't think it is on-topic or useful. If it has some development based purpose then it could be. For example, maybe you know that SomeCompany has a patent policy you can't comply with, so you would like to know which parts of the code are by that company so that you can replace them.

  • Where was ProjectB maintained between 2004 (last Sourceforge commit) and 2010 (first Google Code commit)?

I suggested some guidelines for questions asking where a project is maintained, but this isn't one of them. It also does not seem useful at all.

  • At what date that code was introduced in ProjectC? (difficult case that can't be solved by normal version control tools, for instance because project history seems to be lost)

A project's FLOSS status is irrelevant to this type of question. Maybe you could ask at Super User for how to do a diff on two versions of the source code.

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    If you disagree then please post an answer so that we have someone concrete to debate. – curiousdannii Feb 20 '16 at 13:03

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