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The Changing Face of Open Source - page 2

From Basement to Boardroom

  • April 15, 2004
  • By Susan Kuchinskas

A project also may be too complicated for the majority of community developers. Take OpenOffice and StarOffice, the open source alternatives to Microsoft Office.

"Sun [Microsystems] pays the salaries for the majority of the developers who are actively contributing code," said Sam Hiser, marketing project lead for OpenOffice. "Sun has a pretty traditional development model that they use to encourage stability."

Hiser admitted that OpenOffice isn't as open as many in the community would like, but Sun has elected this model because it's a complex product. "The larger and more mature the code is, the harder it is for any individual to come to it and see what needs doing."

Even if a technology demanded by business customers interests the developer community, the marketplace may not be able to wait for the process. "Businesses have to be driven by timelines and schedules and roadmaps," said Novell's Hawkins. "We like to show customers roadmaps with features and delivery dates."

That doesn't play in the open source community, where a leadership committee may set broad goals and a flexible schedule. "You can't bring many of the corporate pressures to bear on finishing," Hawkins said. "It requires the exercise of patience and tolerance by companies in order to achieve outcomes that are wanted."

Community takes time. "If you want a new feature in the kernel, you can suggest it, the community will look at it, and maybe it will appear three kernel revisions down the road," Hall said. "On the other hand, you can hire a programmer to write the feature. You could be the only company that ever used it -- or it might go into the regular kernel. [In that case,] you wanted it, you wrote it, you paid for it, and you got it in your timeframe."

An example of community lag-time is the original Netscape browser, said Henry Hall (no relation to maddog), president of software consultancy Wild Open Source. "They threw out hundreds of thousands of lines of code. The community said, 'Hey, this is great stuff.' Then, it took a year and a half until anything started happening with it," he said. "It takes a long time to read that amount of code -- and Netscape was lucky that the code was picked up at all."

Wild Open Source is a hybrid business that operates on the border between community and corporate. It provides development-for-hire to companies that need integration with open source technology or software built on top of it. Clients can tell the programmers exactly what they want them to do.

"The most efficient way is to hire someone to code what you need," said Henry Hall. But negotiating that border between work for-hire and open source takes finesse. "The way our contracts work, they own the code. "But we've written it in such a way that it's able to be integrated into the Linux kernel and improve it. And we encourage the owners of code to do that." In fact, Wild Open Source will handle submission to the community at no extra charge.

Developing open source in-house, then releasing it to the community for review and possible enhancement, as Jboss and other companies do, could prove the best of both worlds. Providing dedicated staffers with a paycheck gets the job done, and then the community provides ad hoc QA.

"The community is very good at responding to problems," Henry Hall said. "Even if you're a 24/7 shop, you may get a very quick response, because some people are awake somewhere in the world. You can get the support when you need it, guaranteed."

Linux development will continue apace, maddog Hall said, right alongside community development.

"There will be people who develop targeted projects and may contribute them back to the community," maddog Hall said. "And there will continue to be people who work on the Linux kernel just because they like it. They'll work on it in their spare time, and do very good work. Maybe their management will smile upon it and give them a little slack time during the day. If not, they'll work on it at home as a hobby."

[Editor's Note: The article orginally appeared on internetnews.com, another JupiterWeb site. -BKP]

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