>Surviving and Thriving

>One of the things I ask myself from time to time is if Eclipse would survive if the commercial entities that fund the Foundation were to suddenly pull their resources and stop participating. Personally, I think pieces of it would survive, but the eclipse landscape would drastically change.

Pieces of the Runtime, Eclipse Platform, and Modeling would continue. However, I’m not so sure about the other pieces. I wonder about the same thing for Netbeans, what happens if Sun pulls support, or even Open Office. Would these open source projects continue?

The problem with commercially backed open source projects is that if the commercial interests aren’t interested any more, most projects will go extinct. There are some examples at Apache Foundation that should be warning signs to the eclipse community. One such example is the Xalan-J project. Xalan-C is still being maintained, but the the Xalan-J project has pretty much run it’s course. The reason can be partially to blame on the fact that almost the entire project was supported by one committer or commercial entity. There was no diversity in the project to keep it going once the main group started the project left or was re-assigned. With out this diversity of commercial and non-commercial interest, the project dies.

Some point to the Linux project as the ray or light. The thing about Linux is that it has a grass roots base built on a very dispersed community. It has both individuals, hobbists, and commercial interests backing it. If Linus were to step away…Linux would continue. Somebody in the group would step in. Can we say the same thing about the Eclipse projects we use? That we contribute to? That we commit code to? If you are a committer, would your fellow committers do this if they weren’t paid to do it? Why do you contribute or commit code to eclipse projects? The answers you come up with could affect eclipse as a whole.

Open source is typically a place where 90% of the users consume the end product that 10% or less contribute. The same thing is true for Open Standards. Coming to grips with that reality is hard for companies to understand.

Building a community is hard work. It takes extra time beyond the standard 9 – 5 hours that are put in during the day. There are several people in the community that believe this, others it’s just a job. The community as a whole needs both to survive long term.

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7 Responses to >Surviving and Thriving

  1. Ed Merks says:

    >Something to keep in mind is that not only do commercial entities contribute resource and participate, but a great many more consume the results with little sign of that fact. If the pipeline were to run dry, what would they all do? Look for another pipeline, or will self interest at that point force them to consider priming the pipeline themselves. To me this is the fundamental problem, as long as there is free goodness and comfort, there’s no reason to act, but when pain sets it, you can guarantee that some type of action will be taken to ameliorate that pain.The recent resignation of Christian Damus is a perfect example. Few were particularly interested in participating in the four projects/components for which he is the only committer, but as soon as the buzz of a impending headache set in, there were immediate signs of action. There are few guarantees in life, but the tendency to avoid pain and to act in self interest can be safely assumed almost universally.

  2. dynamicproxy says:

    >Great points, Dave and Ed. We face such dilemmas in the Belenix and the OpenSolaris communities too.There are an extremely limited few (just one person in Belenix, for e.g.) who create things that others make use of. Creating and growing a community is a lot of work, and requires immense dedication, as well as a focus on goals.

  3. David Carver says:

    >What I find most interesting is that for many commercial members of the Eclipse Foundation that this is their first encounter with open source software and development.Ed, I agree that pain can make people pick up where others have left off, however it isn’t always a guarantee especially when they have the source to begin with. The EPL does help in that it says if you modify the source you should be contributing.However, how often does the Foundation find out about members modifying the existing code, and not contributing back? Or how many community members have modified the eclipse code and not contributed? A license is only as good as if it is enforced, and it’s very difficult for any organization that depends on membership dues to try and push back in this situations.This is not to say that there aren’t those that do contribute back. My own situation, I became a maintainer of the Mylyn-Mantis project on sourceforge because I use Mantis BT and Mylyn. The original authors didn’t have the time to devote to it any more, but I needed it working. Since then we’ve added another guy that needed it as well. I’ve worked on several other open source projects that I helped create and my interests ran elsewhere, however others have wanted to continue to use items that I created. They are now maintaining the projects, and I help when I can.It can work, but we need to make it easier for non members to join. We need to encourage them, otherwise we are cutting off an arm or leg that may never grow back.How that happens varies greatly and comes down to the inviduals that are working or using the code that is developed. I don’t necessarily think that a commercial entity will be the saviour, it can happen, but I think the individuals are the key to the long term life.

  4. >Dave, what do you think the Foundation could do to help make the projects funding-fail resistant? Any ideas?

  5. David Carver says:

    >@Bjorn it’s an interesting question. One I’m not sure I have the answer too. In many ways I think it is making sure the overall community interests are being met above an individual members needs.I think in general the eclipse community needs to revisit why they are doing what they are doing? There are many open source projects that are very successful without having the financial backing of a organization. I ultimately think it has to come from the individuals that make up the community to help provide the base, but those already there have to encourage and nurture the base to grow and stablize. Eclipse appears to be at a cross-roads, which way the community and foundation take it will determine it’s future direction.Bjorn, good luck in your new endeavors, your voice will be missed.

  6. Ian Skerrett says:

    >Dave,I agree with a lot of what you have said in this post. We need to find an easier way for individuals to participate in Eclipse projects. It seems like the barriers are too high for many.That being said, I don’t see what has changed in the last 12-18 months to say we are at a cross-roads? Sure we are in a recession and times are tight but it has always been the case where we need to get more people involved. IMO, all projects need to be reaching out to encourage more contributors. It is an interesting discussion on what we need to do as a community to make this easier.One point I would like to clarify, is that we often remind people about the EPL and their obligations. I see license enforcement as being very different from encourage valuable active contributors.

  7. David Carver says:

    >@Ian…it’s nothing that I can really put my finger on for the “cross-roads” feeling. It seems that eclipse has reached a growing pains threshold, in which some issues need to be addressed. Particularly the bug backlog problem. My fear is that it’s only going to get worse with e4 and not better.

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