A blog for the enterprise open source community
Eclipse illustrates open source development diversityMatthew Aslett, July 18, 2011 @ 7:03 am ET
One of the common myths about open source software is that it is developed by communities of individuals. It is a myth that continues to propagate despite multiple sources of data that show the depth and breadth of corporate contributions to open source software.
Communities come in many shapes and sizes, however, and corporate-dominated projects don’t necessarily mean a lack of community or collaborative development.
As we have highlighted on numerous occasions, we are seeing growing focus on corporate-led open source communities. A prime example would be the Eclipse Foundation, which is clearly dominated by corporate interests but encourages a community effort to work together to with a joint purpose – to deliver the Indigo release for example.
Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that Eclipse is not so much a community but a set of set of projects with their own communities, however.
Forrester’s Jeffrey Hammond once described Eclipse as neither a Cathedral nor a Bazaar, but a Mall, in which each project is the equivalent of an individual store, with its own needs and commercial drivers, but with a shared infrastructure and common purpose.
This is an excellent analogy (which is why I have borrowed it) and is important in understanding the nature of corporate-led open source development. While we often think of Eclipse as being a collaborative community process at the mall level it is also important to look at the individual projects to understand the level of collaboration and community at the store level.
Thanks to a new set of Eclipse project landing pages designed by Wayne Beaton it is now a lot easier to visualize the nature of each project. Using the project metadata and Google Charts APIs Wayne has been able to generate charts showing the level of company activity in individual projects for the last three months.
The results provide an indication of the level of collaboration in each project, and show that the projects differ considerably. To illustrate, below is a chart I have created from this data highlighting the vendors contributing to 22 Eclipse projects.
The sample is fairly random – it’s the first 22 projects and sub-projects from the alphabetical listing on the old Eclipse project page for which data was available. They are listed below in order of the number of active contributors, from 23 (e4) to 1 (Jetty downward).
The chart illustrates that the Eclipse Foundation includes both collaborative projects and those that are dominated by a single participant.
The dominant colour (not surprisingly) is blue, representing IBM, while Actuate (red) is also well represented. As can be seen by the amount of dark green, however, individuals are prominent in many Eclipse projects as well – dominating the Eclipse Communications Framework and GMT projects for example.
What this chart really illustrates, therefore, is the way in which the Eclipse Foundation is a microcosm of the wider open source ecosystem, comprising a blend of vendor-dominated projects, vendor-led collaborative communities, and communities of individual developers.
It would be fascinating to get similar data for other open source foundations – the Apache Software Foundation projects, for example.
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