Open source community - friend or foe?

I spent Wednesday at a small event called Open source community - friend or foe?, organised by OSS Watch to discuss strategies for developing communities around development projects. To quote from their website:

OSS Watch promotes awareness and understanding of the legal, social, technical and economic issues that arise when educational institutions engage with free and open source software. It does this by providing unbiased advice and guidance to UK higher and further education.

OSSWatch are now 'drinking their own koolaid' (so much nicer than 'eating their own dog-food') - they've created an OSS development project ( Simal) and begun to assemble a development community around it. A good portion of the day was spent outlining the tools necessary for maintaining a community-based development project. We heard that 'every tool should do three things', and that, at a minimum, the core set of tools you really need are a website, issue-tracking, version-control and a discussion list. OSSWatch were careful to avoid recommending particular tools for development. But which tools are they using to help them manage their own development project? Turns out, they're using Google Code! This is an important thing to know about OSSWatch - despite the plethora of readily available open-source tools available for managing development communities/projects, they have picked the one they think is best, which happens to be decidedly closed-source. There are two important messages here I think:

  • OSSWatch are not open-source bigots - they offer a balanced and considered view
  • You should use the best available tools for managing your community-based development project

OSSWatch are actively engaged with helping projects in our community develop their communities. Some such projects were represented at the event on Wednesday and their feedback was very positive. I learned plenty from this session and look forward to working more closely with OSSWatch. I took away a few specific ideas which is always a good result. Anyone in the UK HE and FE communities considering embarking on a open-source software development project should consider developing a community as a priority, and if they need help and advice about this then OSS Watch should be their first port of call. However, the big question for me is: While the community approach to development is (sometimes) demonstrably successful (Apache, Eclipse etc.), can it work if it's scaled down to a typical 18month JISC-funded development project? OSSWatch tell us that they are currently wrestling with this very issue. Watch this space... (After the event we raised a glass to Randy Metcalfe, who is returning to Canada after years in Britain - bon voyage Randy!)