The debate about foundations for open source projects

Two interesting articles debating about foundations for open source projects. Mikeal Rogers argues that Apache Software Foundation has served its purpose in its 12 years and now is only preserving the problem to justify its existence.

Ten years ago open source projects faced a long list of barriers to entry. Source hosting was a pain in the ass. Wiki hosting, Mailing List hosting, bug tracking, all of these things we can now take for granted were actually quite hard to set up and maintain as recently as 5 years ago. […]

and then he adds that

the world has changed Apache has become a net negative for its projects.

Mainly, Mikael says, GitHub has leveled the entry field and the layer of politics added by the Apache Foundation are not necessary anymore.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse Foundation wrote a response, titled of course Foundations Considered Useful. He lists some of the important things that Eclipse does:

A small sampling of the core value-add that happens within the Eclipse Foundation and its community would include:

  • IP management. Although we often get criticized for being overly focused on the topic, nobody does IP management better than Eclipse. Which is a huge part of fulfilling our mission of delivering product-ready software platforms. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it is absolutely a core value, and one not easily replicated.
  • Predictability. The Eclipse community has shipped its major platform release on time to the day for eight years. Last year’s release was 46 MLOC, so we are talking about a non-trivial amount of code. The processes that we have in place to co-ordinate the activities and release engineering for 60+ projects absolutely require some amount of centralized support.
  • Branding and community. The Eclipse brand means something to people. Millions of developers around the world use Eclipse or Eclipse-based products every day. They have confidence in the software and the community that delivers it. Looking inside the community, there is definitely a pride and a sense of community that comes with being part of Eclipse. Anyone who has ever been to an EclipseCon has seen this firsthand.
  • Industry collaboration. Obviously GitHub has been wildly successful in fostering community-led open source. However, there are lots of instances where large and conservative corporations are looking at how to get involved in open source. In many cases, their business motivation is to collaborate with other industry players to create shared industry platforms. The kind of work that goes into facilitating these ventures goes far beyond picking a license and starting to hack some code. The processes that organizations like Eclipse and Apache bring to the table for project incubation, development processes, license management and IP contribution management are critical success factors.

Both articles are interesting reading for the OpenStack community while we think about our own foundation. What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “The debate about foundations for open source projects

  1. One big difference is that the Apache foundation is mostly a project hosting foundation: very different projects can co-exist under its umbrella, and its main purpose was to foster collaboration and visibility. With hosting, collaboration and visibility being more natural those days, its additional value is reduced, which makes its layer of boilerplate a bit more questionable. It will need to soften up a bit (for example support distributed VCS) to stay relevant.
    A more focused foundation like Eclipse is oriented around a specific product, fostering brand value, funding and industry collaboration. This is of high value, so keeping the bureaucracy minimal (and not interfering with technical choices by the technical meritocracy) should avoid the Apache situation.

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  2. The value-add (listed above) that the Eclipse foundation does seems to echo some of the core principles of OpenStack (as were discussed at the Essex summit and conference) and seem like the types of things the foundation should handle, while at the same time (as Thierry writes) “keeping the bureaucracy minimal “.

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