Eyeballs are a still a scarce ressource

I recently came across this article on Open Office and how buggy it is, despite the fact that it was Open Source (and therefore open to the scrutiny of thousands of hackers willing to help fixing it).

It perfectly illustrates the how ESR’s “enough eyeballs” are just about as mythical as the man-month.

The fact is, opening the source of any software is a requisite to attract hackers to help with it, but it’s by no means sufficient. After all these years dealing with OSS, I’m starting to think it can’t work at all except for a very small category of software. To gain a contributing community, software has to :

  • be a hacker tool (like a kernel, a mail agent, a compiler – forget about business-related stuff, hackers don’t use spreadsheets or word processors)
  • be easy to build (otherwise a would-be contributor will be frustrated before being able to do anything)
  • be easy to find your way around (which means be modular, and business-related apps generally aren’t, because while it’s relatively easy to break down a kernel into specific modules, it’s much harder for this kind of apps)

Other than that, while opening the code still brings lots of benefits, you won’t get a community of hackers like the one of the Linux kernel.

Thankfully, the OSS community has matured a bit, and the idea that OSS isn’t the Silver Bullet doesn’t seem such a blasphemy anymore (except to newbies or non-coding zealots).

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