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James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

Misunderstanding open source #1: Fixate on Linux, Firefox, Eclipse

with 3 comments

I have lost count of the number of times that various commentators about open source have fallen into this trap – thinking that every open source project is like, or should be like, Linux, Firefox, and Eclipse.

Certainly those projects are shining examples of the power and value of open source, but over-focusing on their structure, operation, and community is harmful.

Open source spans the continuum from a single-developer hobbyist ‘scratching their itch’ up to the global, foundation-guided, multi-layered Linux.

The same continuum occurs in the retail market – everything from a couple of kids with a lemonade stand, all the way up to Walmart.

The problem comes when open source columnists, commentators, and bloggers think that all open source projects are the same. Thinking that ideas, solutions, priorities, politics, motivations, and economics can be applied uniformly along these continuums is nonsense. Its like telling the kids on the lemonade stand that they need to follow Walmart’s example when it comes to marketing or negotiating with suppliers.

The problem is that most of the writers about open source have no actual experience of open source development. All they know is what they read and hear, and most of that happens to be about Linux, Firefox, and Eclipse.

An example of falling into this trap is in one of Dana Blankenhorn’s recent posts http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?p=4869

What the history of the last few years tells me is that the best home for an open source project is not a company, but a foundation.

Sure, Dana, but there are over 200,000 open source projects. You think we should create 200,000 foundations? This is the kind of nonsense people write when they make this mistake.

I agree that foundations are a great way to govern open source projects. But this approach will probably only ever work for a minute fraction of all projects.


Written by James

October 1, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Posted in open source

3 Responses

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  1. […] more here:  How to misunderstand open source #1: Fixate on Linux, Firefox … This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Linux, […]

  2. Why must there be a 1:1 ratio of projects to foundations? Some of the best foundations have many great projects under their umbrella. For example:

    * the Linux Foundation
    * the Apache Software Foundation
    * the Eclipse Foundation
    * the GNOME Foundation
    * KDE e.V.

    Sridhar Dhanapalan

    October 26, 2009 at 4:40 am

    • I agree that there does not need to be a 1:1 ratio. But there are over 200,000 open source projects. Can a foundation successfully manage 1000 projects? I don’t know, it seems unlikely.

      Also the majority of open source projects are 1-5 developers and many of these projects get abandoned over time. We don’t want the foundations to become graveyards with lots of dead projects.


      October 26, 2009 at 1:41 pm

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