Open Source: closed for business?
But is this movement stuttering slightly? Via Old Holborn, I see that Wikipedia has now published a begging letter from its founder.
Rather more worryingly, OpenOffice seems to be struggling too.
It is clear that the number of active contributors Sun brings to the project is continuing to shrink, which would be fine if this was being made up for by a matched increase in external contributors, sadly that seems not to be so.
So, it should be clear that OO.o is a profoundly sick project, and worse one that doesn't appear to be improving with age.
Crude as they are - the statistics show a picture of slow disengagement by Sun, combined with a spectacular lack of growth in the developer community. In a healthy project we would expect to see a large number of volunteer developers involved, in addition - we would expect to see a large number of peer companies contributing to the common code pool; we do not see this in OpenOffice.org. Indeed, quite the opposite we appear to have the lowest number of active developers on OO.o since records began: 24, this contrasts negatively with Linux's recent low of 160+. Even spun in the most positive way, OO.o is at best stagnating from a development perspective.
Now, your humble Devil uses the dedicated Mac equivalent, NeoOffice, partly because OpenOffice wouldn't run on a Mac for years (apart from in X11, which is a pain to use and not at all Mac-like), but this is a slightly worrying trend for those of us who espouse the benefits of Open Source projects.
And Obnoxio highlights the wider problem inherent in this trend. [Emphasis mine.]
I wonder why this is? Are people becoming disillusioned with maintaining open source? Is the novelty wearing off, are the zealots moving on to "proper jobs"? Is the cachet of being an open source developer becoming too diluted now that there are so many millions of open source projects going?
Whatever it is, it's an interesting and somewhat worrying development. Because if it can happen to Open Office, surely it can happen to any open source project? The death of such a visible flag-bearing open source project would probably chuck a bucket of ice cold water over any IT manager looking to move towards open source software for anything.
Of course, it doesn't necessarily mean that these projects are going to die, but it is certainly true that the innovations are going to be slower and less impressive.
As to where the developers have gone... well... if I were, say, a Linux developer, I know what I would be doing now: I would be writing small, elegant bits of software for the Mac. Why? Because porting it is extremely easy, Mac users are used to paying for software and they are grateful for the massive increase in applications that have become available since the release of Mac OS X.
Seriously, as far as really useful pieces of cheap, easy-to-use, innovative software go, I think that the Mac is now possibly the best platform. Over the last few years, there seem to have been enormous numbers of applications released that do just one thing really, really well and cost, say, $30–$100.
My favourite coding aplication, for instance, is not the massive, hundreds-of-pounds behemoth that is Dreamweaver, but the light and innovative Coda ($99, and a review); I am also currently testing (and liking) the rather super Espresso.
I now often use VectorDesigner ($70) rather than the expensive Illustrator (which also, in my opinion, is pretty close to having the worst interface design I have ever used). For those who want a Photoshop-style programme, though I haven't used it myself, the $50 Acorn has come very highly recommended.
I do all of my estimates, time-keeping and invoices with iBiz ($50), and I have already mentioned the large number of browsers that have also appeared.
There are a number of other little apps that I use, all of which are useful and which follow the same pattern: they do one thing really well, integrate beautifully with the Mac system, and are affordable for the ordinary punter.
More and more often, I find myself enthusing about pieces of software as solutions to friends' problems—this morning I was recommending iBiz to a lawyer—and then find myself having to stop, realising that they are Windows-based.
That's not to say that there aren't similar applications for Windows and that I don't know about them: it's entirely possible. I am merely saying that this trend is particularly prevalent—when it never has been before—on the Mac at this time. And, from reading Mac and tech blogs, a lot of the people developing these apps were previously developing for Linux and other open source OSes.
DISCLAIMER: I own an insignificant number of Apple shares.