Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Companies Grapple With How Much Leeway to Provide Outside Developers

A very interesting article was recently published by BusinessWeek. In it, Dr. Joel West and Dr. Siobhan O'Mahony share their research on the difficulty companies have had in creating a rich open source community based upon projects that have been initially developed internally.

On the surface, putting code out in the public domain sounds like a great idea. Take code that was written internally, release it, and then have engineers from far reaches of the world fine tune and enhance it. What could be better than that? It is the ultimate way of efficient engineering.

In general, the model works. Plenty of companies allow their employees to contribute mightily to a number of leading open source projects. That has had a profound effect on how we have been able to get to where we are today. However, the focus in this case is the success of projects developed internally with the hopes of being a success externally. That has posed a great challenge to a number of organizations.

So, why is it rare that there are so few successful projects that have originated within a company's four walls? As they discuss in the article, it is all about control. Even though there are a lot of companies that will market themselves as open source believers, and many of them may be, they still have difficulty when it comes time to provide developers freedom to tinker with their code.

Whether this is due to them following the advice of their legal departments, one can only determine that on a case by case basis. However, one thing is for sure; as great as the open source development model is, it still faces challenges from the inherent proprietary nature in which businesses have primarily been built.

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