Open source isn’t the community you think it is

April 6, 2018 brianradio2016

Name your favorite open source project, and the odds are good—very good—that a small handful of contributors account for the vast majority of significant development thereof. The odds are just as good that most of those contributors work for just one or a few vendors. Such is open source today, and such has been open source for the past 20 years.

So, does that mean open source is really just commercial software by another name?

No, it does not. But it means the popular stereotype of a broad community coming together to create software is a myth. The reality of open source is different than the myth, but still a good, positive alternative to commercial software.

Why only a few vendor-paid developers do almost all the work

Thirteen years ago, I dug into academic research that showed how Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Apache HTTP Server were both developed by a small cadre of core contributors. While the population of contributors broadened with things like bug fixes, the central development work for these and virtually all other projects was done by a talented group of core committers.