So, I am writing this column in Day 2 of my OpenOffice.org 2.0
beta experience, and I must say, I am a happy little camper. The
tools are solid, the document interoperability is excellent, and,
best of all, this puppy is fast, fast, fast.
It finally breaks the one bugaboo that has seemed to plague
OO.org all these years: an interminably slow startup. From this
user, a big thanks to the OpenOffice.org development team.
The scuttlebutt around LinuxWorld last month dealt a little bit
with OpenOffice.org. Nothing very negative, but there seemed to be
a consistent observation that the OO.org team was woefully
understaffed. Given the quality of this beta product, I have strong
doubts about that. But enough people were mentioning it that I have
Then, more recently, there's been squawking about the Firefox
development team. Mike Connors posted a strong blog entry that
seriously questioned the current status of the Firefox team and a
number of pundits have stepped up an in varying degrees have
wondered aloud if Firefox isn't in real trouble.
First off, there's trouble and then there's trouble. As open
source projects, there is very little, if any, change for OO.org or
Firefox to die. Even if every OO.org developer were to quit
tomorrow, there would be more developers out there who would
eventually pick it up. Sun Microsystems' involvement in the OO.org
project would assure that.
The Firefox situation is a bit more problematic, as it has less
corporate involvement. Yes, there's the Mozilla Foundation as an
overseer, and presumably AOL. In the case of the latter, however,
the financial and development support connections are a little
vague. At least to me.
In the case of the former, today's news about the Foundation's
shift of focus away from the now-defunct Mozilla 1.8 development
tree to the Firefox and Thunderbird apps makes it clear that the
Powers That Be at Mozilla recognize that allocation of resources is
a critical issue, and I am glad to see they are responding to
Wednesday, Brian Behlendorf of the Apache Software Foundation
touched on this very same issue when speaking to an analyst
conference out in California. In that talk, he emphasized that it
is important for strong open source projects to stay vendor-neutral
and not be dominated by one person or company. He cited, of course,
the ASF as an example of how this works well.
Curiously, he apparently cited OO.org as another good example,
though in the same article he was quoted as describing that project
as having an 80/20 split, with Sun holding 80 percent and the
community 20. Even in Indiana, 80 percent seems dominant to me.
But, articles have been known to be wrong.
Still, I wonder if on a practical scale, Behlendorf's argument
is true. On a theoretical level, I agree with him 100 percent. But
in terms of day-to-day commitment, I think there has to be at least
one strong vendor/company involved with certain open source
projects—if only to act as a safety net when the project gets
While I do not think Firefox is in trouble, I do think that its
development team got caught way off guard by the huge success it
continues to have. Suddenly the outcry for new features and
bugfixes have accelerated way past what was expected, and Firefox'
team has to adapt. Now that the Mozilla Foundation is devoting
resources to the project, I think this is less of a concern, but
there's no denying that it could be a lot easier if a big
vendor got involved with the project to help them organize and
support even more developers to lend a hand.
Personally, I'd suggest Novell, but that's just me. Google seems
to be trying out the idea, and that would be a welcome addition,
too. Let's see how the reallocation of Mozilla's resources will
I will not go completely opposite from Belhendorf's assertion
that better open source projects are community-driven. I wonder,
though, if there comes a point where sheer volunteerism may not be
enough to keep a massive project delivering at the pace it
needs--that there needs to be an over-arching group that can step
back and view the larger picture to see where the project needs to
go and keeps the right resources dedicated to it.
I would contend that such an organization could be non-profit or
commercial. Corporate does not always equate to evil. While some
have privately told me of minor concerns about the overall health
of the OpenOffice.org project, no one has indicated that this is
Sun's fault, and--despite Sun's ever-changing attitude towards
Linux--many have praised Sun's involvement in the OO.org
Behlendorf cited a project's method of organization as one
reason for its success. Avoid project leaders, and build
communities. With that, I agree on every level. The more
distributed a project is, vendor involvement or no, the better
chance it has for continued success.
This brings me to a program note: this coming week I will be on
vacation in North Carolina, leaving the site in the capable hands
of Rob Reilly.
I'll be back on March 21, hale, hearty, and hopefully
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