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Ask Slashdot: What Defines Success In an Open Source Project? 88

Posted by Soulskill
from the having-people-care-enough-to-complain-endlessly dept.
rbowen writes "Nine years ago, Slashdot readers discussed what makes an Open Source project successful. The answers were varied, of course. An academic paper summarized the results, agreeing (albeit with more precision) that motivations for Open Source projects are varied. Has anything changed since then? In the era of mobile apps, social media, and Google Ad revenue, have the definitions of Open Source project success changed at all? Have your reasons changed for being involved in Open Source?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Defines Success In an Open Source Project?

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  • Score (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:35PM (#39488679)
    Your project is a success when a corporation embeds it in their product and violates the GPL.
  • Usage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by recoiledsnake (879048) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:35PM (#39488685)

    I think widespread usage is a good metric and not just gloating over profit like the Apple fans like to do. "Apple derived the most profit from the cell phone industry." they say, to put down Android's usage gains. By that metric, IIS is totally killing Apache and Nginx in the web server space, but most folks consider Apache beats IIS. Which of this is true?

    • Re:Usage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:51PM (#39489619)

      I think widespread usage is a good metric...

      I would say that any usage is a good metric. If you google the name of your project, and another person has made a positive comment somewhere about it, the it's a success, because you've touched someone. You don't have to measure yourself by the standard of Apache or Android or Firefox.

      It reminds me of a story:
      Two men are walking along a beach after the tide has gone out, leaving stranded starfish for as far as they can see. One man leans down and picks one up, and throws it back into the sea.
      "Why bother?" the other man asks. "Look at all of them. It doesn't make any difference."
      "It made a huge difference to that one," he replied.

      • by tautog (46259)

        Well said.

      • I would say that any usage is a good metric. If you google the name of your project, and another person has made a positive comment somewhere about it, the it's a success, because you've touched someone. You don't have to measure yourself by the standard of Apache or Android or Firefox.

        Absolutely. It's a great ego boost to find that someone is using something you wrote, not because they have to, but because they *want* to. Writing commercial applications doesn't have the same feeling. Yes, a paycheck is nice, it's more practical, but for a lot of people the emotional bump from having somone use your OSS stuff is more powerful than a paycheck.

    • Re:Usage (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <[ten.frow] [ta] [todhsals]> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:37PM (#39490105)

      I think widespread usage is a good metric and not just gloating over profit like the Apple fans like to do. "Apple derived the most profit from the cell phone industry." they say, to put down Android's usage gains. By that metric, IIS is totally killing Apache and Nginx in the web server space, but most folks consider Apache beats IIS. Which of this is true?

      Both are metrics. Android vs. iOS, profit is a good metric - but so is usage. Android usage is under-reported because it's going by official Google Android numbers, and misses AOSP numbers. It's why the #2 tablet is the Kindle Fire, but isn't really seen in the Android listings. And there are many Android AOSP based phones out there (mostly in China) running nice "alternative" app stores. Profit's also a good metric too - after all, if Apple is making the most profit, it means that despite Android having a much larger marketshare (or usage), when combined with profits from non-smartphones, Apple is making more money then all of them combined. It helps explain why Nokia/RIM/Samsung are opposing any and all Apple proposals (money money money...)

      As for Apache and IIS - I believe Apache actually has a larger marketshare over IIS (at least it did when all those IIS exploits were floating around), and quite possibly, the Apache-based ecosystem is far more profitable than the IIS ecosystem. But that's because of the licensing and support and many other factors.

      In the end, success is whatever you want to define it. Some people consider success as making profits. Others may consider having someone else use the software a success. And others may define it as having most marketshare. Or maybe it's the entire economic profit of the software and its ecosystem. The only person that can judge the success of open-source software are the developers.

      Heck, another definition of success may be the original creator can step down and see their software continue to evolve instead of becoming abandoned.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:35PM (#39488691)

    If RMS takes credit for the project and insists that everyone put "GNU/" in front of the name.

    • by jd2112 (1535857)
      Heaven forbid you write a PHP application hosted on Apache running on Linux against a MySQL database.you might have to callit GNU/LAMPMyProgram.
      • Of if you rename PHP to GNU/PHP and Apache to GNU/Apache and Linux to GNU/Linux and MySQL to GNU/MySQL then its GNU/GGGGMyProgram
    • by TeXMaster (593524)
      You mean GNU/RMS, of course, yes?
  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:38PM (#39488709) Journal

    If so, you're not done yet. If not, find another itch to scratch.

    • Exactly write. Proprietary software is written so you can sell it, open source software is written so you can use it. If your open source program solves the problem whose existence was the reason for its creation, then it's a success. If it partially solves that problem, then it's a partial success.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nothing will make an Open Source project successful the way an endorsement from Alexander Peter Kowalski will.

  • On a personal level, your open-source project is successful when it accomplishes everything you set out to do with it. On a non-personal level, widespread usage is probably the best metric.
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:48PM (#39488837)

    When respected authorities begin to compare you directly to the commercial alternative, even if you're still found somewhat wanting, you have arrived.

  • by binarylarry (1338699) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:50PM (#39488847)

    I believe RMS said it best when he declared the following metrics required for FOSS project success:

    1) To crush your enemies
    2) To see them driven before you
    3) To hear the lamentation of their women

    For a good example of this, check out how Android has dominated Window Phone 7 and how their womenfolk continually spam Slashdot with first posts about their crushed dreams.

    • by gknoy (899301)

      You know, comparing RMS to Conan's uncompromising character is amusingly on-target. :) Thanks for making me nearly spit my drink, as that was awesome.

  • It's a success once you can profit from all the labor that was invested into it. Which is hard to do with a project that "never ends." Corporations seem to get the profit right away because they don't actually invest their labor into the problem.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:55PM (#39488925) Homepage

    1. Did it solve the original problem it was intended to solve?
    2. How many other people had their problem solved by it? (usage stats, as much as possible)
    3. How many other people were motivated to improve it? (got involved as developers, testers, documenters, etc)
    4. Did it reach a point where it was so darned useful and bug-free that nobody really needed to think seriously about the problem ever again? (e.g. GNU's "bc" utility, which hasn't changed since 2000, and does its job beautifully)

    The ultimately successful open source project goes through a lifecycle of something like:
    1. solve an immediate problem
    2. get developers, testers, documenters involved solving the problem in a wider context
    3. solve the problem for a whole lot of users
    4. nobody thinks any more work is needed

  • by ishmalius (153450) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:56PM (#39488935)

    When a project evolves into that state where developers and users get along an coexist peacefully, then you have an environment that benefits both groups. It seems like a simple social skill, but actually this is rather rare. I have been in a couple of projects, one where the users and developers have something of an acid relationship and have a confrontational nature. Little gets done, and nobody is happy. But in the other one, users, developers, and other contributors (I18N, addons, builds, examples, etc) all get along harmoniously and produce a wonderful product. The producer/consumer model does not work in open source projects. Mutual respect and courtesy are the key to getting the job done. This also includes upstream library developers, distro managers, etc.

  • The same thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdrianKemp (1988748) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:57PM (#39488947)

    The exact same thing that defines success in non-open source software: It does what you wanted.

    Doesn't matter whether it's a log rotation script, a web app, a POS system or firmware for electronics on the next spaceship. Software success is determined by only one metric. Open source doesn't enter into it.

  • Success (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlieNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:04PM (#39489031) Homepage

    Success is when you have reached the goal you have set, nothing more, nothing less.

    An open-source project can be success even if it has NO users whatsoever outside the developers, and equally well it can be a failure even if it had 200,000 users. An outsider cannot really say whether a project is a success or not, it's the developers who has that say.

  • Easy: A release v1.0

  • A lawsuit. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DieByWire (744043) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:08PM (#39489079)
    You know you've arrived when you've been sued for patent infringement.
  • This. [slashdot.org]

  • When your corporate competitor is scared enough to threaten you. That's how you know.

  • When a how-to book about your project can be found in the computer book section of Barnes and Noble. Bonus points for making it to the "For Dummies" series.

  • by Petersko (564140) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:57PM (#39489689)
    ...and what a wasteland of failure lies before us... :)
  • I would say under that metric there is Linux, Firefox, VLC, Bsnes, Dolphin (Wii Emu), Pidgin, SumatraPDF, Filezilla, Blender.... The rest of the FOSS world has some way to go.

    I'd say there are a few that are getting close: Gimp, Ardour, Libre Office, OpenShot.....

    The bummer is how many FOSS games are just not good enough. It's the year 2012, and there's STILL not a better FOSS Civ 2 than the original Civ 2. Almost all of the best emulators are FOSS though, so.....

    Also disappointing is the audio apps. Winamp 2.81 is still the best on Windows. Audacious is good on Linux, but there's no Windows version, so.....

    • Also disappointing is the windows> audio apps. Winamp 2.81 is still the best on Windows. Audacious is good on Linux, but there's no Windows version, so.....

      FTFW. Windows appears to be the *only* operating system that is still stuck with horrible music software.

      • Another key feature of most of the successful FOSS projects GP mentioned is that they are all cross platform. If you don't have a Windows port, you're not going to be successful (this is considering only desktop apps). If only KDE had taken the time to port KOffice to Windows. They'd be miles ahead of LibreOffice and associated application now. But because they kept it exclusive to *NIX until quite recently, and even now have an awkward installation process, noticeable foreign looking window theming and ton
        • A lot of FOSS projects have Windows ports, they just don't get a lot of love (like the Audacious Music Player mentions previously). Whatever your feelings about Windows as a platform or as a product of Microsoft, the huge userbase gains should be reason enough to put a lot of love into the Windows port.
          • by olau (314197)

            The problem is that most people do it for fun, and it's just not a lot of fun to work on something you're never going to use and that requires you working in an environment you'd rather not work in.

          • That's not entirely true. Sure windows may have 50-100 times as many users, but they sure as hell don't have 50-100 times as many developers willing to donate their time for free, otherwise windows would have a decent audio player by now!
    • When there is not a superior commercial product.

      xeyes?

    • by Inda (580031)
      Try the Foobar2000 audio player. It's almost open source; freeware with OS components.

      It pisses on WinAmp for memory footprint (I still use it on a 14 year old P3, 384mb, while running a host of other programs), plays everything I chuck at it, and it feels like a FOSS application (no gimicks, no fancy graphics, no bloat).
    • by Geeky (90998)

      I'd say there are a few that are getting close: Gimp....

      Not close. Not close at all.

      Certainly not for pro or semi-pro use.

      • by crhylove (205956)

        I use Gimp professionally daily. For all kinds of web work, fliers, biz cards, posters... The only thing I miss from photoshop is cmyk and the heal brush.

  • ... chair flying by your head.

  • A name that no one can pronounce!

    - How's your FOSS project doing?
    - xcxcczgfhkklngs! Is a huge success! :)

  • I write a project that addresses the needs of a very small population (I won't link to it, because I don't want to slashdot my server).

    I only have a few dozen users, and we all agree that it is a rousing success.

    If it meets the needs of its intended audience, in its intended scope, then it is a success.
  • Firefox's goal is to have an open web, not to be first in the browser market or even have a single user. Open Java's goal wasn't to have any usage of their product, but to threaten to enough to open the main (then Sun's) Java implementation.
    If corporations were legally responsible to their charter (rather than maniacal about profit), the world may see successes that are equally as good for society.
  • Success is measured by the number of forks the project has on GitHub.

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