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How To Tell The Open Source Winners From The Losers

Businesses must know what to look for in a project's leadership, community, and level of innovation. The wrong choice can cost you.

Charles Babcock

February 3, 2007

2 Min Read

Timing: Luck Matters
That's one reason, if you're looking for the next crop of open source winners, Subversion should be near the top of your list. It's used as the version control system by Google's Google.Code open source project-hosting site. Subversion is quickly replacing its open source predecessor, the CVS system, for version control and is offering a viable Web-friendly alternative to commercial options from Microsoft and IBM. "We love Subversion," says Chris Dibona, open source program manager at Google, which has Subversion code committers on its staff. But Google hedges its bets; it uses Subversion only for external projects it hosts, not for internal development, where it uses the commercial Perforce.

Apache and Subversion are "products that were well timed," contends Behlendorf. "They occurred at the beginning of intense need for their kind of functionality." In other words, they were leading-edge innovations. Zack Urlocker, executive VP of products at MySQL AG, says open source code must overturn an established way of doing things. This is open source's "sometimes-overlooked role as a disruptive force," Urlocker says.

The key question to be asked by corporate developers: Is this open source project solving a problem my colleagues and I are wrestling with? Even OpenVista could overcome its troubles if the demand is great enough. Google's Dibona says OpenVista has been anticipated so long developers will give the code a look. "If the code is what the user base is demanding in software, developers will go ahead and work with it," he says. "I've seen projects launched in troubled circumstances before."

Johnson, leader of the Spring project, saw that pressing need as a developer for financial institutions in London. He thought Java Enterprise Edition had become too complex for mere mortals and was actually slowing down the development process. "I saw project after project start with Java, and it wouldn't get the job done," he says.

Asked if he thinks, like Behlendorf, he could pull off a second open source success, Johnson acknowledges the accidents of timing and thought leadership in a rapidly changing technology scene. "The best open source code almost has the stuff of magic to it, the way it fits a growing need," he says. "And magic doesn't come around that often."

Continue to the sidebars:
PostgreSQL Shows How Open Source Support Can Be Hard To Come By,
Hartford Borrows Open Source Concept
and
One Company's Search For The Perfect Open Source Software

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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