December 14, 2011, 9:13 AM — One of the unfortunate by-products of HP's decision to shift webOS to an open source project is the notion that somehow webOS has been "dumped"--cast aside or buried in the open source graveyard.
I was just wondering… when did it become okay to consider open source a dead-end option?
Not to go all Pollyanna on all these pundits, but I would think that the historical open source success rate would at the very least see open source as an equivalent alternative to proprietary development practices--not as some kind of downgrade. (If I were not holding back, I would even argue that open source development is a better goal for which to strive. But, for the purposes of this discussion, I will settle for equality.)
The problem is not entirely the fault of the analysts and media… the way some projects are treated when they are donated to open source communities does tend to enforce the graveyard notion. When HP donates webOS to open source (we still don't know how), are they really wanting webOS to succeed, or are they trying to spin off a failed project with the most positive spin possible?
For all the successes in open source and free software development, there are dozens of failed attempts which mark the end of life for software efforts. Commercial vendors who dump them--because that's exactly what they've done--don't follow up with community and development best practices and then shrug their shoulders when the project, absent leadership and support, sputters and dies.
This is not always the case. Sometimes a project will take on a life of its own, despite or because of the original donor's actions. LibreOffice is a good example of that… Sun Microsystems had too heavy of a hand in governing OpenOffice.org, and when Oracle demonstrated it would, too, a fed-up community went off and forked its own project, while OpenOffice.org was eventually donated to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).
The perception that open source is the place where software goes to die has been continually perpetuated by the attitude software vendors and independent developers have towards open source: that if you make a project open source, then developers will just show up and take the project to whole new levels, like the shoemaker's elves who magically fix the cobbler's shoes every night.
That is a demonstrably false and lazy way of thinking.
The ASF, which has recently come under fire from the open source community for its centralized, some say dogmatic, approach to fostering software projects, knows this all too well. This is why the ASF sticks every new Apache project into incubator status, no matter how successful the project was prior to its inclusion: the ASF wants to see how strong the community and development processes are before putting too much energy and resources into the project.