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SourceForge: An Open Source Tale - page 2

The Future's So Bright

  • October 22, 2007
  • By James Maguire

Rapid success caused problems for SourceForge. As tens of thousands of developers set up camp, they began to overwhelm the site. The infrastructure groaned under the weight of so many users. Some developers grew disenchanted. And the financially-strapped parent company lacked the cash to fix all the holes.

VA Linux, in fact, was suffering from rapidly vanishing revenues. The dotcom era had gone poof. Corporate America realized Linux was a cost saver, so IBM and HP were making a healthy profit selling Linux boxes--but little players like VA Linux couldn't compete. The company struggled to reinvent itself.

Changing its name to VA Software, it sold an Enterprise Edition of SourceForge. (The fact that Enterprise Edition was closed source caused considerable kvetching in the SourceForge community.) VA Software also nurtured or acquired a raft of media properties: Linux.com, IT Managers Journal, Newsforge, Freshmeat, and that mother lode of unexpurgated opinion, Slashdot. In its most recent incarnation, VA Software sold its Enterprise Edition to CollabNet, and in March 2007 the company renamed itself SourceForge, Inc.

But as the company searched for steady revenue, the SourceForge site suffered from under funding. The grumbles of complaint from developers' grew to an unhappy chorus.

"There was a period from '03 to '05 when things were pretty bad," recalls Dominic Mazzoni, the founder of Audacity. (The well-known audio software has been downloaded tens of millions of times.) "Their CVS servers were getting really, really slow. Very basic things about the site were just completely broken, and had been broken for a long time, without really an acknowledgement that they were broken, or that they were ever going to be fixed."

Bharat Mediratta, the founder of Gallery, recalls his project's growing pains: "As the project grew bigger and more complex and sophisticated, SourceForge wasn't exactly providing for all of our needs." Among other things, he felt the site's forum lacked features, which prompted him to build a forum on his own site.

One serious sore point: the site's tracker that counted downloads wasn't working. "That was really bothering a lot of people," Mazzoni says. "It seems really silly, but sometimes, when you're not getting any money, statistics about how many downloads you have is really a form of currency."

The lack of staff meant that addressing these concerns was nearly impossible. This sprawling venture, serving hundreds of thousands of users, was staffed by no more than 3 to 5 people. "It's absolutely scary how much growth they had to deal with," says SourceForge's Ross Turk.

Somewhere around 2005 or 2006, as the number of projects soared past 100,000, SourceForge faced a break point: either invest, or see this primary open source incubator start to wither. It was time to put up or shut up.

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