“Hydras”, “real” open source, and the ASF Incubator

An interesting post by Ian Holsman, one of my colleagues in the Apache Software Foundation who is also interested in open source business and economics:

http://feh.holsman.net/articles/2006/05/12/is-your-project-a-hydra

I take a more lassez-faire approach, myself. Ian’s advice is valuable to those sorting through open source projects to use or get involved with – a full-fledged free software project with many users and committers who are independant of one another is usually going to be a better proposition than something run by one company, or one person. A lot of ASF thinking focuses on the community being the real value in an open source project, and it’s obvious that it adds a lot of value. However, the licensing is important too, because it’s your escape hatch. It means that if the company goes away, or decides to create a proprietary product, that you have the option to create a community around the open source code, by taking over its development and maintainance.

ASF Incubator

Ian also mentions the ASF Incubator, which I’ve been involved with first hand through my involvement in incubating OFBiz. One of the big hurdles that the project faces is getting a scrap of paper from everyone who has ever contributed anything important to the project. And since OFBiz is a real open source project with committers all over the world, and, over the years, many contributions, that is a lot of paper to collect! Thanks to the efforts of the OFBiz team, they’re doing an admirable job of completing the task.

However, I can’t help but observe that “incubation” is a far easier process to go through if the code arrives in the form of a corporate donation, because it all comes from one place. Unfortunately, I think that leads to some selection for “hydra style” projects, although to their credit they may be trying to break out of that by joining the ASF (they need to if they want to successfully complete incubation). Still, I think it is likely to lead to a more “corporate” organization.

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