We’ve had some good discussions lately in the Planet Eclipse blogosphere about whether Eclipse project should be focusing on the concerns of users or building a platform for ISVs to add their value. In the end, I conclude that you need to balance both for the sake of growth in your community. Unfortunately, though, or fortunately as the case may be, Eclipse projects are staffed almost exclusively by Eclipse members who fit more in the ISV camp. These guys need to justify their investment in the Eclipse on the bottom line. It’s the nature of the business, and there’s nothing wrong with that, since without it we wouldn’t have the great Eclipse that we have today.
Of course, this isn’t just an Eclipse thing. A lot of high quality open source projects are staffed by ISVs and the concerns are the same. Recently, chief Linux maintainer Andrew Morton has been frustrated by the focus of his development community as well. Most of these developers are employed by OEM-types who support Linux running on their platform. But a lot of users who are using “unsupported” platforms are raising bugs that these platforms aren’t working anymore. How do you get your developers to focus on something their real bosses don’t care about?
Well, this is a big challenge for all open source project leads. Developers contributing to open source aren’t under contractual obligation to do anything. What they do work on is generally based on the needs of their employers. Yes, that’s a pessimistic view because everyone I that I work with in open source is very concerned about all users of their stuff, no just the users that their bosses care about. But when tough decisions need to be made, you can be sure that the general user loses out.
So is that all there is too it. I don’t think so. One thing that I think ISVs contributing to open source often don’t think of is that, you’re “open”. Everyone can see what you’re doing. Everyone can find out that your contributing to it. And if the general community starts making a fuss, especially in the media, that the open source software that they are freely downloading doesn’t work for them, that can reflect badly on the open source project. That could lead to negative publicity that your customers get to see, who may in turn start questioning the quality of the product your are trying to sell them.
As I said, the ISV’s need to focus on their bottom line when they consider how to invest in open source. But they need to take everything into consideration, not just the direct needs of their product, but to make sure that the integrity of the project they are building their house of cards on stays on the good side.