Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Building an Open Source Community

Since joining Osmosoft, which is in orbit around a very large telco, I've been interested in the reasons why large enterprises don't integrate open source into their organisations as well as they could. After all, the benefits are well known now, and this is something that individuals can achieve with very little effort - so why not a collection of individuals?

Turns out the main reason (besides culture!) is that large companies are often stuck in a process rut. Systems and processes have evolved over decades to support an organisation which usually either builds software itself or buys it in. And these systems and processes don't lend themselves to the open source way of doing things. Procurement processes, for example, aren't set up to handle open source at all.

It's tempting to think that individuals in a large company don't need processes to adopt open source, but this isn't the case. One good reason why process and governance is needed is that open source software has licences just like proprietary software, and it's essential for a company like BT to make sure these licence terms are understood and applied. Plus sometimes code from two or more different open source projects and licences is merged, and someone has to identify and sort out the result licensing mess. And that's just scratching the surface!

Fortunately, help is available. There's an initiative called FOSSBazaar, which BT has just joined as a strategic partner. The idea is that companies that successfully create processes and tools to manage open source projects share their work and experiences with those who would like to follow suit. This can save everyone a huge amount of time and effort, as starting this stuff from scratch can be onerous. Large companies have a huge amount of resources that can be directed into open source projects, and helping them get started really helps build momentum behind the open source movement.

Anyway, on the suggestion of one of my colleagues, and in the finest tradition of reuse, I've re-hashed an article I wrote a while back ("Building a Developer Community") into a new article for the FOSSBazaar website called Building an Open Source Community. You can read the full article here.

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