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Generating Success in Open Source

By PacketMaster in Technology
Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 04:27:29 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

I emerged from our last departmental meeting with an interesting question on my mind. One of our programmers suggested that we create an open source project for the editor we're working on. Basically it's for editing within a browser. Our main question is, could interest in something that has a narrower focus gain wide-spread support?


I can't reveal too much of the details now becuase it's still an in-house project. However it would be a browser-based editor with a specific application. Right now the focus is for a publications-based application, but eventually be a modular components system that would allow you to edit different types of data.

The arguments ran two-ways. One that it would be good to get outside input into the project. We're not going to be selling this editor itself as a product anyway so it's not a revenue problem. It'd be nice to get other experience programmer to catch problems or anticipate needs instead of relying on one or two people in-house only. The second is that this project would be hard to gather developer interest because it's obscure and it'd be a waste of time to try and get developers for it. Actually, this project would be very useful in a wide variety of situations and after extensive research there's no real comparable product to what we're attempting, free or commercial. We'd do it until the GPL or another like license with the source being free to all.

What do other people do who want to develop using open source? We have the capacity to do everything in-house in terms of website, listserv and CVS. It'd be a matter of attracting developers. How would a project like this gather momentum?

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Generating Success in Open Source | 11 comments (11 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Opinion (4.16 / 6) (#1)
by tympanic on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 02:45:52 PM EST

IMO, developer interest shouldn't be the deciding factor as to whether or not to make it open-source. If people want to work on it, they will. Would there be any real difference, from a development standpoint, between a) developing it in-house and b) opening it up, but having no outside developers help out?

I think it's more important to decide what you, as a user, would want to use. Would you want to use an open-source product for this purpose?


"I've noticed success tends to mean making sure people's expectations are low and then exceeding them" -David Simpson

Precisely (3.85 / 7) (#2)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 03:08:11 PM EST

This is precisely the kind of project that ought to be opened. Since your company doesn't intend to sell it, what's the risk in opening the source?

Even if you fail gather enough interest for wide-scale development, there's no harm in popping a tarball onto a website.

farq will not be coming back
Some advice (5.00 / 4) (#3)
by slaytanic killer on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 03:26:58 PM EST

Here are some points I've noticed are useful in building a successful free/open projects.

. Don't assume that you will get any help. This sounds antithetical to the whole point of opening up the source. However, there are other points; an end-user contributes a patch.. and then gets competent enough to understand some aspect of the software that she can provide help on the mailing lists. Eventually that person may contribute more. And even if not so many developers help out, you probably at this point have an infrastructure that is good for efficient (== less costly) support. As Netscape learned, opening up the source is not some magical fairy-dust, but it does have some very deep overall advantages.

. Stable mailing lists. Should have an archive, so you're not answering the same question over & over. As well as a faq. You might find that much of this infrastructure is very useful even just for purely internal projects.

. Have a pretty good first release. That's how you attract users. The point is that some of these users start liking the software, and would rather help it along rather than switch to something else that doesn't quite satisfy their needs. A secondary advantage to this is that you'll probably have a good design at this point, since you were forced to deal with the monster. Make your mistakes before releasing it, so the developers will know that you have experience and trust that you understand the sticky corners.

. Feel free to look at other projects. It clearly seems like you're developing in Java, so I'd suggest looking at the guys at jakarta.apache; they have an entirely straightforward approach to things, even if one of the mailing-list archives gets bounced around to different URLs sometimes...

And at this point, you probably will notice that you are doing the best practices that you should have been doing for any project, internal or otherwise. (Making sure to comment, for example.) Just a small generalization to external development. And it will probably be some of the best management training you will ever find.

Additions (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by amokscience on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 04:40:03 PM EST

I would add:

Have a coding guidelines/conventions document in addition to good commenting.

Have a product 'roadmap' of things you've thought would be useful but haven't yet implemented.

[ Parent ]
Definitely have a functional first release (none / 0) (#7)
by GiTm on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 08:01:51 PM EST

I've found that starting a new project - even with a substantial existing codebase - will not attract much interest unless there it is functional at least in some small usable way. It seems that most people are more interested on working on code rather than participating in the original design and slog work required in getting Version 1.0 working.

I have not quite figured out why this is.
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
[ Parent ]
we'd use it (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by speek on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 04:41:56 PM EST

If you had an editor that worked in a browser and allowed one to edit an XML document that resides on the server, we'd use it.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Gathering momentum (4.33 / 3) (#6)
by Friendless on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 07:15:25 PM EST

In November I open-sourced a small game I wrote. It has been a little successful, but there have only been 59 downloads according to sourceforge. I think most of that interest came from my advertisement on freshmeat.net, which is exactly for advertising new releases of open source projects. 59 downloads doesn't seem much, but I also advertised on sourceforge for people to translate it into other languages. So far I have received about 25 responses, and the game is being translated into 11 languages. Another offer arrived this morning to translate it into Brazilian Portuguese. I have also received code from 2 developers, including a network mode so that players on different machines can play each other. I also asked for GUI designers to advise on the visual appearance, and one person has responded to that. I have had to break the releases into a stable release and a development release. All considered, one little game is occupying all of my open source time, and I don't even have time to code it, I am busy organising translators and folding in patches. I'd say, you'll be surprised.

Though. (none / 0) (#11)
by darthaya on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 11:48:54 AM EST

I only see it useful for individual developers who lack of enough manpower and financial resources to make strong products.

Why is it good/fit for the corporation environment?

[ Parent ]

Make it GPL! (2.00 / 2) (#8)
by Majamba on Fri Jan 05, 2001 at 11:38:47 AM EST

Your application is very special and probably you won't find other developers to help you. But Open Source has a lot of other advantages:

  • You will get a lot of attention. Spent some time and set up a nice website and register your software on freshmeat.net. You could also use Sourceforge to host your project. User interested in this topic will start to find your software.
  • User will start to use it. It's free. Everybody who wants to use it can do it. Many will download it use it for 5 minutes and then dump it. But still a lot of users will stick with it.
  • Corporate User / Admins will use it. Ordering new software in a big corporation is a major pain. You must have a budget to pay it. Most of the time you aren't allowed to buy it from an exiting budget (because it's a new kind of software and wasn't included in your budget plans last year). You will have to beg your manager till he allows you to spend more money (or spend it in an different way than planed). Depending on your company and the money you need it will take 2-6 month till you actually get the software you want. With Open Source you can use a piece of software within minutes. Probably your management will be a little bit upset, because you didn't asked them. But in general it isn't hard to argue why you are using a piece of software which perfectly fits your needs and doesn't cost anything.
  • Maybe somebody will help you for free. Don't count on it. Especially don't make it your main argument in favor for Open Source, but it's possibile.
  • Your programmers will love it. They will still spend their hole day in front of a computer. But they will receive comments about their work from around the world. This kind of feedback is why most Open Source programs are coded so well. Programmers don't have to do all the testing on their own (debugging is one of the most boring things I know) and they learn what kind of features other users would like to have.


  • GPL? (none / 0) (#10)
    by darthaya on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 11:47:02 AM EST

    Are you going to use some other GPLed code? Are you going to let the users swallow it and digest it and then spit it?

    If not, you DONT have to be RMS's minion and GPL your code. Make your own decision instead of following another moron's.

    (Sorry about my RMS rant)

    [ Parent ]

    Don't bother. No. Really. (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Parity on Fri Jan 05, 2001 at 03:08:57 PM EST

    Why do you want to write a browser type editor from scratch? I think, instead, you should find an already existing open-source project and work on -that-. If nothing else, Mozilla includes editing features, just spin them off from the browser. Or whatever, there's other projects out there; just put a handful of developers on to stabalize the project of your choosing, and put hooks into your primary product - preferably customizable hooks.

    I use a number of commercial products here at work, and my favorite has to be the Green Hills development suite - not because it's a spectacular system or anything, but because it allows you to pick a custom string to define the 'launch editor' function, so when I browse my sources for my project and double-click on 'foo.c', foo.c comes popping up in GNU Emacs. I'd probably want to do the same thing in your product (maybe not emacs... maybe I'd want some html specialized editor... but then, I like emacs a lot.) The point here isn't, btw, emacs, but the idea that it is possible to put launch-hooks into commercial apps just like almost every liberated software app has, and it's -appreciated- by those of us with favorite editors, ftp clients, whatever. That, and that there are many worthy open-source projects out there, and one of them is probably already doing what you want.

    Parity Even


    Generating Success in Open Source | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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