In the last decade, the open source development model has been extraordinarily successful. However, this success came at a cost. Today, we are experiencing an explosion of open source projects, escalating competition amongst projects, and commercial interests driving projects at an ever increasing rate. To succeed in the long run, open source projects need to employ a set of management techniques to overcome these issues.
To illustrate how this is accomplished, we will draw on the 10 year history of the Xen project as a case study. Xen started in 2003 with strong university roots, quickly evolving into a thriving code-centric project with a development culture very similar to the Linux kernel. The project was instrumental in creating the cloud computing space as we know it today. Large companies such as Amazon, Citrix, and Rackspace, as well as many others, were able to build thriving businesses using open source Xen. Yet five years later, the project started struggling in multiple areas: it failed to engage its user base, becoming inward focused, and suffering from fragmentation caused by pressure from commercial interests. As a result, Xen lost the support of a number of key Linux distributions. Xen started to be perceived as old and outdated, despite a swelling user base, a growing and diversifying contributor community, an increasing number of Xen-based commercial solutions, and numerous Xen-powered open source projects. Some onlookers even predicted the imminent demise of the project. The project clearly had an image problem, which could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, because of a program of cultural change initiated 2 years ago, the Xen project of 2013 is no longer crippled by the problems which nearly caused its downfall. We will explore the causes of the issues which arose, highlighting mistakes that were made, and revealing their effect on the community.
We will also show how almost any issue that threatens the success of an open source project can be addressed using a combination of good community management, excellent collaboration infrastructure, wise marketing, and good governance to align the interests of a project’s stake-holders. By employing each of these techniques in a complementary fashion, we can ensure the long-term success of a project.
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