Open Source Matchmaking How do companies find open source developers? They use one of these services

SourceXchange collects big projects, big names

SourceXchange is like Cosource but at the high end of the business


In early 1999, Hewlett-Packard determined that it had a serious ongoing

need for open source talent that was difficult to meet internally. It

worked with O'Reilly and Associates, best known as the publisher of the

funny animal computing books, to construct an independent agency where

organizations and developers could meet. By that summer, O'Reilly and

Brian Behlendorf set up (renamed this August to Collabnet)

to improve the way open source projects are managed and provide

opportunities for open source developers. Behlendorf had just created

the Apache Software Foundation to structure the long-term legal

prospects of the Apache Web server.

Within a few weeks, Sun Microsystems joined H-P in seeding Collabnet's

first project exchange with its initial proposals. Behlendorf called

that marketplace SourceXchange and refers to it as "the WD-40

[lubricant] for open source development."

SourceXchange is like Cosource in its emphasis on making prospective

sponsors (the companies paying for individual projects) comfortable.

Much more than Cosource, SourceXchange favors larger, multiweek,

multiperson projects. Also, SourceXchange contributes open source value

in a wider sense than Cosource. Cosource deliverables are always open

sourced. With SourceXchange, though, a project definition might require

proprietary customization of an existing open source application,

partition of an existing closed source product into a combination of

open source and closed source segments, or several other variations.

That flexibility has even led to invention of the neologism gated

community, to describe software development with source that is only

partially open.

Collabnet has quickly accumulated several of the biggest names in the

industry -- IBM, H-P, Benchmark Capital, Oracle, Sun, Marc Andreessen --

as corporate backers and/or project sponsors. Along with several

important H-P assignments, perhaps the most prestigious Collabnet

activity is its management of OTNXchange, the Oracle Technology Network

designed for a million Oracle developers. Other recent publicity coups

include the analogous Indrema Development Network (IDN) for that gaming

platform and Sun's decision to have Collabnet host StarOffice's newly

opened source.

At a technical level, one of the most exciting open source developments

of the year is Invisible Worlds' work with the Blocks eXtensible

eXchange Protocol (BXXP), currently under review by the Internet

Engineering Task Force (IETF). Invisible Worlds is already managing

pieces of its work through SourceXchange, and has hired a full-time

open source strategist, Kris Magnusson, as director of developer


The prospects for open source matchmakers

Decision makers as prominent as Xerox's chief scientist John Seely

Brown recognize that "there's a fundamental change from finding ways to

innovate inside a corporation to leveraging the knowledge ecologies" of

the larger world. Clever companies save money and, more importantly,

time by acquiring intellectual property instead of growing it in their

own soil. Open source is often the best way to that end because "open

source is about creating literacy... The community mind becomes a new

kind of platform for innovation," Brown says.

Internet and related technologies make those communities possible, of

course, and simultaneously lead to the e-lance economy that Thomas W.

Malone and Robert J. Laubacher memorably predicted in a 1998 article

for the Harvard Business Review.

In the future, more and more of our time will go to specific projects

because of our interests, expertise, or community standing rather than

because we happen to be employees of companies that want results. For

good and bad, the exchanges profiled here are leading that trend toward

commoditization of open source development. All are now sufficiently

mature to offer services that might help you in your own career. If you

want full-time assignments at competitive rates, look to SourceXchange.

For supplementary income and quick results, go to Cosource. Asynchrony

and the Free Software Bazaar can help you find outlets to defray the

expenses of projects that already excite you and learn how many other

people are interested in your idea.

A final question about open source is whether it differs enough from

closed source software to matter in the marketplace. If Cosource, for

instance, grows large enough, will traditional body shops and

consultancies simply move into the area and take back the business?

Will Arthur Andersen begin advertising "open source aware" along with

such qualifications as "CICS-experienced" or "knowledgeable about point-

of-sale applications"?

It's possible. To this point, though, the recruiters and big-name

consultancies I surveyed have only a clumsy understanding of open

source and its operation. There'll be time to check back in a few years

to see how much they've learned.

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