Is Open Source A Crap Idea?

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Scott Hanselman asks the question, Is Open Source a Crap Idea. I sure hope not.

One thing to consider is that the type of open source projects that we are involved with are very niche market and hobby oriented. I have a feeling that the Subversion project will continue to do well because they make a product that is essential for many businesses.

CollabNet for example sees the value of the open source model and of Subversion as a source control tool so much so that they provide full time employees to work on it. I doubt we’ll see that happen with RSS Bandit or Subtext any time soon (though I welcome any company who wish to become sponsors).

The sad truth is that most open source projects I’ve seen are pretty much pushed forward by the efforts of one or two ultra committed people. I think the important thing for these projects to look at is a succession model for who will push the project forward when they burn out or move on. Or they need to really focus on marketing to bring in more developers.

I don’t have the answers to this one. I personally started Subtext because I wanted to tweak .TEXT to my liking and I thought it would be a great forum to try out new coding techniques and new technologies. Lately though, I found that I enjoy the product management and team lead aspect of running Subtext as much as I do the coding aspect. In that respect, I see a long shelf life for me on this project.

I doubt I would stop working on Subtext unless I just plain stopped blogging. Despite building a great distributed team, we are all busy and checkin activity is steady but not very active (though our mailing list is involved in some great discussions). I have tempered my expectations for what I can accomplish and realize that even if I was the only one plodding away at Subtext, it’s a fun and relaxing hobby with an outcome that I personally benefit from.

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4 responses

  1. Avatar for Jeff Atwood
    Jeff Atwood March 24th, 2006

    Despite building a great distributed team, we are all busy and checkin activity is steady but not very active (though our mailing list is involved in some great discussions)
    Isn't this exactly what the graph of Apache open-source development shows? Lots of people talking, and .01% of them working?

  2. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 24th, 2006

    Yep. I'm not disagreeing with the graph.

  3. Avatar for Scott
    Scott March 24th, 2006

    Yep. That's how the most successful OSS projects have run. All of the ideas run through one or two filter people who are either actually writing the code or acting as a gatekeeper for the patches.
    You can't get two geeks to agree on Kirk vs. Picard. How can you get them to agree on something as important as a design pattern or on which line the brackets go? If everyone active in an OSS project was submitting patches and/or working on the code it would be pandelerium.

  4. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 24th, 2006

    I disagree to some degree. I think most projects could use a large number of contributors who actually contribute more than ideas.
    Certainly for new features, it helps to have a small number of gate keepers. But think of all the surrounding tasks that need to be done.
    For example, on the subtext team, we have one person setting up a virtual machine with a CruiseControl.NET and NAnt setup for our automated builds.
    There's room for more people to contribute documentation. There's also a nice list of bugs that I'd be happy if anyone stepped in and started working on them.
    Lastly, we would be happy to have anybody and everyone help contribute skins or freshen up existing ones.
    The Subversion leader talks about his main criteria for commit access. "Makes good choices". That's what we need. If someone's a novice, but simply commits simple fixes and tweaks, and uses good judgement, that's a great contributor to have.