Sunday, December 31, 2006

Business Experience Open Sourcing Code

Well hello everyone from lxer and rootly. My weblogs tell me there are a lot of linux enthusiasts in many countries reading blogs on New Years Eve. Don't you all have anything better to do? :)

But while I have your attention, I do have a question: What are the common characteristics of successful open source software projects? How about ones that are incorporated into proprietary profit driven products?

The Background

I run a little project management company here in Washington State. You might know something about my neighbor in Redmond. We write TeamDirection Project, they write MS Project. We do some nice things in my little shop, but one thing we would never be able to do is compete with Microsoft on a feature by feature basis-- only a handful of companies even have the resources to contemplate such a thing.

However, one can't help but marvel at the power and energy harnessed by the Linux community to create a truly great operating system. The Apache Group also comes to mind for an open source effort that many programmers from every corner of the earth participate in. And more recently the Mozilla group developing Firefox.

There are so many things I'd like to do with this piece of code, and so little time and even fewer developers. Open source has this appeal of, somehow (worry about the details later, right?), bringing a critical mass of talented developers together to improve your product for free. Sounds even better than outsourcing! :)

The one common denominator among the aforementioned is each one has a significant backer with *very* deep pockets: IBM backing Linux and Apache, Google backing Firefox.

The Question Rephrased

So the question is really: Do you need a big backer to make an open source project successful these days? Or would a charismatic leader, someone of Linus Torvalds ilk, be enough to get the ball rolling and hope for the best?

I say this because I've been debating opening our scheduling engine to open source. But it seems like it would be such a shot in the dark, that so far I haven't been able to see the benefits for the loss of intellectual property and loss of goodwill with Microsoft and Microsoft partners (Linux doesn't quite have the partner channel Microsoft does, or I'm not aware of it).

So for now my thoughts are to keep our project scheduling engine in-house, but I'm open to examples of reasonably successful applications built on open source-- other than Linux, Apache and Firefox.

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