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 Collab.net (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
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
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-
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.