As you may know, last week saw the Subversion Vision Conference in New York City. This wasn’t a large event, rather it was a small meeting of several core members of the Subversion team. Their goal wasn’t marketing, community building, or flag waving, but rather to step back a moment and take a look at where Subversion was headed. And although they didn’t come away with a finalized roadmap or vision statement, it does appear that some good progress was made on mapping out the direction for Subversion.

I think this is great and I’m glad to see the Subversion team taking some time to map out the future. But I do wish we had seen some indication that Subversion may evolve to incorporate some distributed functionality. However, according to Michael Pilato the immediate plan appears to be to “Maintain a centralized approach to version control”.

Considering the composition of the team – most members being from companies such as Collabnet or WANdisco who serve the enterprise – this isn’t exactly surprising. Centralization is still a key concern for enterprise IT organizations who need to maintain tight control on their systems for compliance and governance reasons. But I hate to see the team dismiss different approaches to source control simply because it doesn’t appeal to the enterprise yet.

I think distributed version control systems have some great advantages and not just in the open source space. I think cheap, personal branching and merging is an extremely powerful tool. From personal experience I can tell you that it can completely change your development workflow for the better. My opinion is that anything that stops a developer from committing changes is a bad thing. Your version control system is your safety net – it should be there to support you, not to impose speed bumps.

I’ve watched the rise in popularity of DVCSs over the last few years. Git made the DVCS sexy but they’ve been around for quite a while. Microsoft supporting Mercurial on Codeplex is just one example of DVCSs being taken seriously by very large players.

But even though distributed systems are the hot “new” thing, most organizations – big or small – still place a high value on centralization. As a small business using Subversion, I see the value in having one location with all of our valuable IP. I have one asset to back up, one place to go to find repositories, one place to go to manage access, etc. These are all great arguments for a centralized system but I think there can be a middle ground.

The combination of a centralized version control system supporting distributed working copies could be extremely powerful. Allowing your developers to commit, branch, merge, and revert locally and then pushing changes up to the master repository as appropriate seems like the best of both worlds.

This is where the Git users out there yell at me and tell me that Github already works this way. I’m aware of that and have used it myself. It’s a great workflow – but it’s not ready for the enterprise, or even smaller companies. It will work for some, but not for the majority.

This is where I think the Subversion team can make some serious traction – not just supporting the status quo – but really moving the product forward in a new and exciting way. I think that Subversion is in the unique position of being able to take advantage of the benefits that distributed systems offer while at the same time serving those who care about centralization.

In the coming months I expect that the Subversion team will make their roadmap public and I’m excited to see what’s on it. I really like what I’ve been hearing about the Working Copy changes (no more .svn folders littering my working copy!) and love to see the momentum in the community. Subversion is still hands-down the best source control solution for small, medium and enterprise organizations, but it can always be better. I hope that the core team will consider some of these opportunities when mapping out Subversion’s future.