For a software company, making a product free/open source software (FOSS) or participating in such a project is sometimes a wise business decision. However, for the effort to be succesful, the company must know how FOSS communities work and how they interact with companies. The OSSI project is an attempt to increase our understanding on the topic.
Karl Fogel has written a good practical guidebook from such a point of view. The book is
Producing Open Source Software. How to Run a Successful Free Software Project (O’Reilly 2005). The book is also available online under a Creative Commons license.
Fogel starts by describing how to start a new project effectively. Like Jamie Zawinski said, a FOSS license is not a magic pixie dust that will bring lots of developers to your project. For this to happen, the project must be attractive, it must be easy to start with and it must be promising. The developers don’t want project documentation, they want code. They don’t want management structure, they want screenshots. They want a free and open license. Unless the basic technical infrastructure is there, it is hard to have the project going.
After the infrastructure, he moves on to discuss project structures. The project can be a (benevolent) dictatorship, a skills-based meritocracy or some issues are decided by a vote. Because the structure is often informal, whether a company may affect the outcome of the project depends on the actual company developers working on the software. If the developers are skilled and receive respect from other community members, they will have a say on the future direction of the software.
Chapter five on money is particularily interesting. Fogel describes different ways of company participation and discusses the benefits and problems of paid developers in a volunteer community.
Other chapters give advice on communications, release management and how to attract and treat volunteers. Volunteers, after all, are essential. If the volunteers go, the project will, if not die, at least change dramatically. Chapter nine is on licenses and copyright ownership and assignment.
I think is the best practical guidebook to FOSS I’ve seen so far. I recommend you to take a look.
From the Creative Commons blog:
A new book by author Phillipe Aigrain - “Cause commune : l’information entre bien commun et propriété” (or, in English, “Common Cause: Information Between Commons and Property”) has been released online in French under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license. Selected extracts in English are also available online. Editions Fayard may be one of the first major mainstream French-speaking publishers to facilitate Creative Commons licenses. Let’s hope it serves as an example to open up more French-speaking (and other) content by mainstream publishers for freedom of use.
The book looks like an interesting foray into the politics of the “information age”. I wish somebody will translate it. Unfortunately, translations are forbidden by the license.
I’ve noticed a lot of buzz about open source among e-learning folks, but I thought it’s just about the low cost, a point of view I don’t find theoretically interesting at all. Then I heard Graham Attwell speak at ITK 2005. Teemu Arina made some notes about Attwell’s presentation:
According to Graham, Open Source is a good thing for education. Open Source software is able to reflect on particular pedagogical approaches. Previously on the LMS [Learning Management System] dominated market, management was the paradigm instead of learning. In that sense, educational software improved in the way how it operated and not in conceptual terms. The reason for shift towards more pedagogic thinking is mainly because of Open Source.
Although Teemu writes about a different session than the one I attended, the point is still the same: that free/open software enables users to produce software that is based on more flexible ideas of pedagogy and different values. It allows us to create different pedagogies, experiment and fool around. It seems to me that different technologies embed different social values, and you can see this in the field of educational software: whether it’s the “Intellectual property”-driven idea of a learning product or learning as participation in a knowledge creation community - be it in an intranet, www, wiki, or something else - let’s leave the technical solution open for the learners and educators.
Steven Levy’s book Hackers (summary, e-text) from 1984 is a great history of hacker culture until 1984. For what happens after 1984, you must read Stallman or Raymond. But they only cover the Unix/university world. From the early 80s on, really interesting things started happening on the home computer front.
According to Levy, one of the imperatives of the MIT hacker community was: You can create art and beauty on a computer. An early hack on the TX-0 computer at the MIT AI lab was a program that played music. I don’t know what happened during 60s and 70s, but since the late 70s, lots of games were written. Games have always been part of the hacker culture (some games at least, not any games).