The best open source development model

The best open source development model

Summary: Michael's point, and it's one I think Matt agrees with, is that Eclipse will draw more willing participation than any Sun project, regardless of license. The reason is the independence and credibility of Eclipse as viewed by the developer.


Dennis Quaid starring in “Yours Mine and Ours”Our own Matt Asay recently took former Sun executive Michael Dolan to task for a piece comparing Eclipse with OpenDS, which Dolan once worked for at Sun.

(Why the picture of Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo? Patience, grasshopper.)

Dolan's point was that the purpose of a project is key to understanding it. Some projects are corporate initiatives, and others are based on a community of interests, like Eclipse.

Matt then argued about whether community or corporate projects are a better model. This is where I think he missed the plot.

Eclipse is not a community project. It's a community of interests. IBM has an interest, and so do the other corporate sponsors. The sponsors pool these interests, pool their resources, and the project runs independently.

By contrast, Sun is demanding corporate control of the projects it manages. Whether we're talking OpenSolaris, Java, or OpenDS, it's Sun which controls the horizontal and vertical, regardless of the licensing scheme used.

A true community project, one which rises organically from among a group of developers who care first about the result, is the open source ideal.

But increasingly it's not the open source reality, because programmers like to eat and (believe it or not) many like to eat well. Their work is valuable, so today most are employed. Some are even respected.

When I wrote my piece about the open source incline last year, I defined a single dimension for spurring contributions to a code base, the license.

But life has more than two dimensions, and the colloquy between Matt and Michael has opened my eyes to this.

Michael's point, and it's one I think Matt agrees with, is that Eclipse will draw more willing participation than any Sun project, regardless of license.

The reason is the independence and credibility of Eclipse as viewed by the developer. When you contribute code to Eclipse it will be judged solely on its merits. Which company it helps is irrelevant.

IBM's ambitions for that code mean nothing within the Eclipse process. IBM can push code through that process by putting resources behind it, but that means it's increasing its contribution, and that's good for everyone.

Contrast this with a corporate project, whether it's at Sun or Red Hat or a small company like Palamida. Contribute to a corporate project and the benefits accrue mainly to the sponsor, and in a limited way to you as a customer.

This has to color your willingness to make the contribution, the effort you put into it, and the nature of that effort. You're going to think "mine" and "theirs."

While at the bottom of the open source incline is that simple value of "ours." As in yours, mine and ours. That's the ideal model for open source development.

Topics: IBM, Open Source, Oracle, Software Development

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  • Nice post, but first paragraph is wrong.. I never worked at Sun....

    Hi Dana, nice post, but I never worked for Sun so I think the starting paragraph sets the wrong point of view...
  • But Palamida isn't a project

    I can only assume that Palamida was mentioned in line with Sun and Red Hat because of the GPLv3 site debacle? As Palamida is not a project, but a services and solutions organization (and not an open source vendor), I can't make the correllation. If indeed our mention is in relation to the GPL3 site, it's important to note that we haven't seen a lag in contributions from projects, in fact, it's increased substantially since its inception, and visits continue at a steady pace.

    I'd have to disagree that contributing to a corporate project only benefits the corporate sponsor. My assumption is that users are trying to better the projects that they are undoubtedly using themselves. We don't actually sell our GPLv3 site, and it's always been free to use (i.e., you don' t have to pay money for it, but yes, you should give attribution if you use the whole database behind the site), so even there, we aren't being showered with benefits.

    Possibly the point of our GPLv3 site has been misunderstood? It was published from our own extensive reasearch (work we did on our own, without any outside contribution) as a way to give back to the community. We sent out the invitiation for the community to contribute if they wanted to - and they did. By the hundreds. So it seems that we are in agreement on the "yours, mine and ours" assessment of open source.

    --Melisa LaBancz Bleasdale
  • What willing participants

    I don't think I agree with
    "is that Eclipse will draw more willing participation than any Sun project, regardless of license."
    "...Which company it helps is irrelevant."

    Someone would have to do a survey, but it is my understanding that most of the "willing participants" are in fact hired/paid to participate.

    I'd guess most Linux and most Eclipse contributors are paid by a company that is very relevant. Many Eclipse participants, I'd guess are IBM employees, or Oracle employees, etc. Likewise many Linux participants are RedHat, etc. employees.

    If a company, such as IBM decides they will support Sun's Solaris on IBM equipment, which they have decided to do, I'd guess some of the "willing Solaris participants" would be IBM employees. Likewise now that Linux distributors are more free to include Sun's Java in their distribution, I'd bet more Linux distributors are now paying their employees to address their software and supported hardware and customers.

    IBM has a lot of control over Eclipse, RedHat over Linux, likewise Sun over Solaris and Java... even if they are willing to listen and accept other contributions and suggestions.
  • RE: The best open source development model

    I agree with the conclusion that "yours, mine, and ours" is the ideal. That doesn't mean that a good and valuable open source project cannot be housed within an enlightened corporate entity. I have not been so directly involved with Sun's projects to be able to comment on their degree of enlightenment. I have been more involve with Eclipse and it is not quite as independent of IBM influence as implied here. Still, I think it does measure up well to the "yours, mine, and ours" ideal. As long as the organization that houses a project is open to the idea of community and respectful of that community, and as long as it has a license and IP model that promotes the "yours, mine and ours" ideal, then it has benefit to all participants - those who use, those who contribute, and those who house it with the idea of also making a living from it. The participants in the community will ultimately determine if a project lives or dies, and those who house and attempt to make a living from the vitality of a project, including Sun, will adjust to this reality or disappear from the open source world. I for one hope they adapt, because a bigger open source world with more resource contributors produces more useful innovations that benefit us all. Bill Miller, XAware