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What Makes an Open Source Project Successful?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the what-do-you-measure-your-software-by dept.

Programming 201

crowston asks: "There have been a number of discussions on Slashdot and elsewhere about how good projects work (e.g., Talk To a Successful Free Software Project Leader), but less about how to tell if things are going well in the first place. While this may seem obvious, most traditional definitions of software project success seem inapplicable (e.g., profit) or nearly impossible to measure for most projects (e.g., market share, user satisfaction, organizational impact). In an organizational setting, developers can get feedback from their customers, the marketplace, managers, etc.; if you're Apache, you can look at Netcraft's survey of server usage; but what can the rest do? Is it enough that you're happy with the code? I suspect that the release-early-and-often philosophy plays an important role here. I'm asking not to pick winners and losers (i.e., NOT a ranking of projects), but to understand what developers look at to know when things are going well and when they're not."

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Step 3! (3, Funny)

Bingo Foo (179380) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782872)

the "..." part before the "Profit!"

Re:Step 3! (4, Funny)

sbeitzel (33479) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782932)

I dunno, man. Where do you get the extra step?

I heard it first as:

1. steal underpants
2. ?
3. profit!

What more is necessary? Just steal underpants!

Re:Step 3! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783285)

only if those underpants were worn by lacy chabert!


Re:Step 3! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783069)

Dave "So, would you ever let a guy eat out your ass."
Me "No, I'm not gay. And that would be weird."
Dave "Right, but if you aren't looking you'd never know if it's a girl or guy."
Me "I don't know about you, but I usually look at the people who put their tongues in my ass."
Dave "What if your girlfriend started it out, but then a guy moved in and finished. You would never know."
Me "I mean, I don't know, I guess...but...what kind of girl would...look, I'm not gay."
Dave "You know, gay guys give the best head. We teach female porn stars how to do it."
Me "I'm not gay. I just don't like dick. Except for mine, of course."
Dave "I like yours too."

Re:Step 3! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783305)

You didn't answer the question!

What Makes ShrubCo Fascist?: +1, Patriotic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783129)

Read Get Your War On 23 [] to find out.


The part where.. (-1)

WeenisMonster (664473) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782890)

the project FAILS IT. much like I have FAILED IT in my effort to put forth a fr0sty p1ss.


YOU FAIL IT! (624257) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782971)

You are correct!


second post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782891)

pretty sure, could be wrong, may have failed it.

OH YES (-1)

WeenisMonster (664473) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782972)

You have also illustrated the method of FAILING IT that is so well used by OSS developers. Hang your head in shame, knowing that you couldn't even get the p0stus sec|_|ndus.

I know the answer to this one. (0, Troll)

BusErrorBob (660209) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782894)

Well, just make sure that project isn't like BSD... Because, well, you know, thanks to certain surveys ... BSD is dying!

Re:I know the answer to this one. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782935)

And GNU/HURD is still-born.

The "BSD is dying" posts are fucking stupid and are just typical Slashdot's "Pro-choice, but only if Linux is the choice" attitude.

I fart in your general direction!

Read "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" (5, Informative)

Landen (183211) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782898)

My suggestion, read "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric Steven Raymond....not just that paper, but the actual book of papers he put together. Very good read, and he takes a lot of the ideas of open source projects and converts them into real world applications.

Re:Read "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" (4, Informative)

CmdrWass (570427) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783232)

If you are looking for indicators of success of an open source project, you have to first decide what success is.

I consider my project, The Java X10 Project [] , a success based on several factors:

First: I've had hundreds of downloads, and since I run this project on a Cable Modem connection, my ISP hasn't become unhappy :)
Second: I've had dozens of email's asking for support as well as asking how to contribute.
and Third and finally (I think this one is a very good indicator): There are other websites out there that link to my site.

Oh, and there's a fourth optional measure of success... more for bragging rights... my site is THE FIRST result when querying google with "Java X10".

All in all, it is a very small project, but I have tangibles that give me a sense of success. Will this ever reach the magnatude of Apache? Probably not, but gawd, I'd prefer it remain relatively small anyway where I can control it. :)

Re:Read "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783325)

Eric Raymond is a hanger on. Linus Torvaldes, Alan Cox, Richard Stallman, and all the big names were asked to be on VA Linux's board of directors, to help give them redibility. Only ESR accepted.

Ambition and Drive (5, Insightful)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782899)

What makes Open Source (or ANY project) successful is ambition and drive.
You have to be realistic in your goals, and have the drive to see everything through. Open source projects that are abandoned or failed is simply because the developers gave up for one reason or another.

You know how you got together with your buddies to make a game, but never got very far? That is a classic example of a project failing due to lack of ambition and drive.

Re:Ambition and Drive (4, Interesting)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782925)

I misread the questions.

The real question is how do you determine if you are successful without having profits.

Its simple. Open source is scratching an itch, right? Is the itch scratched? If yes, then its a success. If it doesn't do what someone else wants, they can add it in, or ask you to do it.

Popularity != Success

My AskSlashdot Question (slightly offtopic) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782961)

Is SARS the new Gook AIDS? Seems to only affect gookers, IMHO. We should probably ignore it.

g_______________________________________________g_ _
o_/_____\_____________\____________/____\_______o_ _
a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a_ _
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t_ _
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s_ _
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e_ _
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x_ _
*___\______\_-~____________________~-_\____|____*_ _
g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g_ _
o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>__\___|____o_ _
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>__|__/____a_ _
t_______/\_|___C_____)/ZIPPER\_(_____>__|_/_____t_ _
s______/_/\|___C_____)_HEADS_|__(___>___/__\____s_ _
e_____|___(____C_____)\______/__//__/_/_____\___e_ _
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x_ _
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*_ _
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g_ _
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o_ _
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a_ _
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t_ _
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s_ _
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e_ _
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x_ _

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Not pizza? (0, Troll)

ralico (446325) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782986)

I thought it would have been free pizza and beverage on a paypal account.

Re:Ambition and Drive (0, Offtopic)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783065)

Hey, that Michael quote is two years old! I'm sure Michael doesn't believe that anymore.

If we assume that Slashdot was 4 years old when he said that, we get an allotted 178.25 comments annually before you become a child. Since that comment was 2 years ago, that means we have an additional 356.5 allotted comments before becoming a child. Add to the preexisting limit, and you are given 1069.5 comments currently before becoming a child.

So, as you can see, you are misquoting Michael, because by the 713 figure, I am a child, but with the modified figure, I am not. While you are still three times as childy.

Uh, to pretend I'm on topic, this post scratched an itch of being completely pointless but accomplished what I, the author, wanted it to do - make fun of Michael, and use poorly thought out and badly executed math to update the figure. And isn't that what most OSS projects are started for, anyway? If the author is happy with it, then it is successful, right?

Re:Ambition and Drive (0, Offtopic)

Xerithane (13482) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783207)

So, as you can see, you are misquoting Michael, because by the 713 figure, I am a child, but with the modified figure, I am not. While you are still three times as childy.

Considering at the time I had many more comments, and Michael was being a prick, he isn't misquoting Michael at all. You would have to take into account the duration of the account, and the relevance of the comments posted. FK usually posts on-topic, positively moderated comments. Michael was just being a troll.

Re:Ambition and Drive (0, Offtopic)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783410)

Those are the only flaws you find with that post? Oh, come on...

First of all, 713 is not the established base for being "childish" in Michael's world. Apparently, 713 is somewhere over whatever Michael thinks is a normal comment rate. (Since he has a mere 97 [] , it's gotta be something low...) Secondly, I pulled the number of years out of my ass. It would be possible to calculate the days or something, but I don't really care enough about Michael to put, like, effort into it.

Also, I know that the FortKnox account has only been around since like the beginning of 2000 or so since that's about the time I registered my account and my UID is slightly lower. Finally, I doubt anyone really cares what Michael has to say. Lord knows I don't read Slashdot for the editors' comments. If Slashdot didn't have an active user community posting comments, I wouldn't be here. There are better sources of repeated news and poorly reported facts. I can find other people who willfully release DDOS attacks on poor webservers while refusing to even offer the courtesy of simply warning a site of impending doom.

Actually, for an interesting comparison, compare FortKnox [] 's user page to michael [] 's - notice which page looks far more like the owner of a troll... (Hint: my vote goes to the owner of "Replies: 22; Score:-1, Flamebait".)

Besides, it was a joke. I don't actually want to get dragged into the "Michael is an ass" debate, although I definately get the feeling that most of the editors actively hate the vocal Slashdot croud and would wish they'd just leave if it wasn't for the page views they generate.

Besides, you're just upset because you're less childish on the Michael Childish Rating Scheme if you take comments over time into effect :)

Re:Ambition and Drive (3, Insightful)

linuxlover (40375) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783221)

I know _EXACTLY_ what you mean, bacause I am going through it now!

Me & bunch of friends started doing a game (well we talked a lot about it). It isn't done (after 1.5 yrs) because
- I am the only coder.
- there is no 'peer pressure' to work on it regularly.
- and after spending 10 hours at work in front of computer, I just don't feel like coding at home!
- the code is not ready to be released, and going through some design changes. So I am reluctant to invite any others to join.

once the 1.0 is ready, atleast I can release it and follow up with development.

slow and stead wins the race, or so they say.


What Makes an Open Source Project Successful? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782900)

Certainly not:

404 File Not Found

The requested URL (askslashdot/03/04/21/239212.shtml?tid=156) was not found.
If you feel like it, mail the url, and where ya came from to

Oh, and titties help.

3 Easy Steps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782903)

1. Start an open source project 2. ... 3. SUCCESS!

If the project works (4, Informative)

Savatte (111615) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782914)

and it does what it is supposed to do, cleanly and efficiently, then by definition it is successful. Popular and successful are definitely not the same thing, even if you gauge a projects success by its popularity

Seems straightforward (2, Insightful)

The Clockwork Troll (655321) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782915)

Every piece of software has an intended client, user or audience.

Are the users happy, overall?

Re:Seems straightforward (2, Interesting)

bwalling (195998) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782982)

Well, the original author may be having difficulty determining this. I think that traffic on mailing lists is a good indicator.

lets see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782920)

if it actually works...

Easy (5, Insightful)

Vaulter (15500) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782923)

It's easy.

Are there more people using the project than developers? If so, it's successful.

Do you enjoy working on it? Then it's successful.

Most open source projects are essentially hobby projects. Whether or not they are 'successful' on a large scale is usually irrelevant.

Re:Easy (1)

sporty (27564) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783230)

If the project is active in ANY way... it's successful. How many "dead" opensource projects out there are still used just 'ccause the app is cool?

Any FreeBSD 2.x machine.. openbsd 2.x.. linux 1.x.x.x.x.x (ok, i added a few .x's... it amused me).

meta-html, a foul foul language written by bash author was a huge failure. About 10 people used it, one person developed it, and it did things badly. Well, maybe the fact it gets used at all at some pointmakes it successful.

Who knows...

what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782936)

o - it fills a need
o - it is well documented and maintained
o - it either came first Or it was so clearly
and overwhelmingly superior to its predecessors
that it supplanted them

why do people ask these questions?

I suppose the logical answer is: (5, Insightful)

West Palm Beach (654328) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782937)

Success being measured on how many hits you get on your download page and how many downloads of your project actually occur.

It's one thing to be satisfied with your own code, but to see others satisfied with it, well that's what I'd want at least.

What makes an OSS project successful? (5, Funny)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782939)

The same thing that makes any software project successful:

a win32 port.

Next question please.

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (3, Interesting)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783023)

Indeed, the top downloads at are consistently either native Win32 apps (like CDex) or Win32 ports of existing Linux apps.

Get ready for the troll mods, though. That's not the kind of truth that goes down well 'round here =)

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (1, Informative)

Chanc_Gorkon (94133) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783236)

Hey I agree! I tried the Gimp on Linux and said MAN I wish this thing was on Windows......then I found the Windows port. Only reason I wished it was on windows was making my scanner work on SANE is a PITA! My only complaints now is that I wish that the GIMP was able to do CMYK separations, and I WAS going to say the windows port being more up to date but I just noticed that it has caught up to the Linux version. So now I withdraw that complaint! The Windows port is very stable on XP and I use it everyday! TAKE THAT ADOBE!

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (2, Insightful)

DevNull Ogre (256715) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783240)

I'm not sure whether or not stratjakt was trying to be a troll, but I think a Win32 port of a project really is a legitimate indication of success. It likely means somebody enjoys your program so much that they want to use it in those situations where they're forced into using Windoze. Because of the number of apps that are available for Windoze, that's a real compliment.

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (0, Troll)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783436)

I admire your zealotry, but most people are not "forced" to use Windows. They use it because it works and it doesn't require three years of hacker training. They use it because they want a simple desktop OS that can run their games and let them surf the web, write letters or print invitations to their kid's birthday parties, balance their checkbooks and send email to grandma. Your perception of what a computer should be used for may differ, but in the real world that's how things work.

BTW, it's "Windows", not "Windoze".

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (3, Insightful)

jmv (93421) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783225)

The same thing that makes any software project successful:

a win32 port.
...or you can tell that a project is successful when people keep asking for a Win32 port.

Re:What makes an OSS project successful? (1)

metalix (259636) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783242)

Just like Steve Ballmer said, there are 3 things that make it successful.

Developers, developers, developers.

Open source success (4, Insightful)

Pacer (153176) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782943)

If a piece of software serves your needs -- whether you built it yourself, modified something someone else made, or just downloaded a pirated copy of something commercial -- it is "successful software."

"Success" is not really a concept that can be accurately applied to "software in general."

If you are an OSS designer you will have your own standards of what is "successful" and what is not for your baby. These are not necessarily standards held by anyone else, nor should they be.

Does it really matter?

Its successful if its useful to you (3, Insightful)

Mastos (448544) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782949)

Really, the only reliable measure of a software project's success is if its useful to you and meets your needs. If your satisfaction with a project is dependent on other people's useage/opinions of the software, you will probably never be happy. Remember, open source software development is for 1) fun and 2) to scratch an itch. Anything more is chasing after the wind...

Doing something people want, cheaper. (5, Insightful)

Webmoth (75878) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782951)

What I see as successful are the projects that do something that already being done by a successful commercial application, only doing it cheaper and very well.

The ones that do the same thing, only poorly, will fail.

The ones that end up costing more to implement than the commercial application, even if they do it better, will fail.

The projects that do something new, something people don't know they need, are doomed to failure from the start because your typical open source developer doesn't have the resources to market the product. There was a time when people didn't need sliced bread. Bakers didn't need bread slicers. But the bread-slicer-makers had the resources to market their product and convince the bakers and public it was needed. So now we have sliced bread, and nothing greater since.

Re:Doing something people want, cheaper. (0, Troll)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783113)

The ones that do the same thing, only poorly, will fail. Like linux on the desktop? The ones that end up costing more to implement than the commercial application, even if they do it better, will fail. According to some sources this is true of Linux. I don't have any answers, just obvious statements to debunk idialogs.

What Makes an Open Source Project Successful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782955)

Why, Ninnle Linux, of course.

A successful software project (2, Insightful)

ekephart (256467) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782958)

is one that meets it requirements.

Re:A successful software project (2, Insightful)

crowston (667463) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783389)

Interesting answer, but few open source projects have formal requirements specifications, so it's not clear how you'd tell...

Web related things easier to judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5782959)

You can use Google to see how often the name of the project comes up. Discussion in Google groups is also a good sign.

Success is measured within (0)

gobbligook (465653) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782962)

Financial success is based on getting good people, having limited resources, but lots of ambition to succede.

A good project manager, and a good design are really all you need. The other staff will be successful regardless of skill as long as they are happy and have a feeling of accomplishment.

Personal success is harder to measure. It is based on 90% blood, sweat and tears, and 10% skill and knowledge. Lots of effort leads to success more than lots of brains.

Profit does not mean success (3, Insightful)

Call Me Black Cloud (616282) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782968)

Profit indicates success of the marketing plan, not the software development effort. It doesn't matter if you're coding for love or for money, there are some things that apply to both. Take a look at process and product. How is the process? Are there goals and are they being met? How is testing coverage and how often is testing being done? Is the code maintainable? Take a look at the end product. Does it do what it's supposed to without too many bugs? Are issues being addressed in a timely manner? Most importantly, how well does it fit the need for which it was designed?

Re:Profit does not mean success (1)

Rudy Rodarte (597418) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783041)

... It doesn't matter if you're coding for love or for money, there are some things that apply to both....
I'm not a lover, I'm a coder!

milestones and traffic (4, Interesting)

Red Warrior (637634) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782983)

Milestones: establish concrete goals when you start the project, along with a timeline. Of course, these may evolve over time. Happens for commercial apps, too. If concrete milestones aren't met at some point, it's just vapor.
Traffic: both developer and user. Is there a relatively continuous level of input/interest in the project? If developers don't want to develop, and users don't want to use, it's probably going nowhere, even if it's the best thing since the BeOS.

How to tell that your OSS project is a success (4, Funny)

BabyDave (575083) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782990)

Stallman demands that people call it GNU/[Foo]

Mailing List to measure success (3, Interesting)

wawannem (591061) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782996)

As an end user of successful open source software, I would have to say that the best way to get feedback on the success of your project is through an X-users mailing list where X is your project. It seems to me that the more activity in a mailing list usually indicates the size/success of a project. I have spent time in the past simply lurking on a mailing list for a while for products that I am evaluating, and in other cases, I join the mailing list to lurk right away on desktop software that I am not already familiar with. It is the best measure thusfar that I have found.

It should be... (3, Interesting)

BubbaTheBarbarian (316027) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782998)

Stable in relation to the time invested. someone (this is open to broad interpetation).
It should have the goal of attaining at least as much funtionality as any of the software that it is replacing.
Other examples of good OSS is squid, openoffice and, yes, even Linux (Red Hat 9 is least as functional as Win98SE, and that is just from an end user standpoint).
Just my W.O.

By feedback (5, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783001)

to understand what developers look at to know when things are going well and when they're not

The bug list and feature request list are one way. Strong feedback implies interested users. Also adoption by other developers into the development group shows others are interested, so you must be doing something right.

Re:By feedback (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783122)

Mailing lists and bugtraq usage seem to be the most straight forward means of assessing a project's "success". I guess its a good thing that Microsoft doesn't have a publicly available bug traq system. It wouldn't speak very highly of their products.

Re:By feedback (2, Interesting)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783138)

The closest thing they have is this [] .

Success (2, Insightful)

j_kenpo (571930) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783012)

Probably the same things that make commercial projects a success, a well defined, well structured and maintained project definition and active development. If you look at some of the more successful projects out there, such as Mozilla, they are actively being maintained with a goal in mind. If a project has no user base, then it is doomed to fail. If there hasn't been an update to it in like 2 years, then chances are, unless it was perfect the first time around, it will fail. If the project isn't useable or provide any sort of functionality or value, it is doomed to fail. After all, how is a project going to succeed without a user base. Commercial support doesn't seem to hurt Open Source projects either. With commercial backed projects, some of the more important things that programmers are inept at, like UI design, could be addressed (although there have been very few instances where it has).

what I do (3, Interesting)

meshko (413657) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783022)

on one of my open source projects I used (more accidentaly than deliberately) the technique which is standard among people who write exploit. I have a small error in the makefile which causes something liek 50% of people come back for help on compiling it. This gives me pretty good estimate of how many people are actually using the package :)
Of course this leaves out win32 users who just download the binary, but oh well.

EASY!!! (1)

lp_bugman (623152) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783028)

Software developers! And to atract developes you have to be successfull at some degre. The formula could be to spent full time at the begining of your proyect to create a good codebase and atract other develpers. Then you can lower your guard a little and continue your normal life.

Your project is successful if... (5, Funny)

dfn5 (524972) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783029)

You have been sued by a huge mega corp with a team of lawyers over patent infringement and the EFF comes to your rescue.

Re:Your project is successful if... (1)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783197)

well.. I'm not sure you could currently say bnetd [] is very succesful. There haven't been new releases on their site since last YEAR (funny, "NEW" has been next to the link since a while, and never have I seen a file following it)

Do you WANT to be succesfull enough to get killed? (or at least badly stunned)

Users (2, Insightful)

The_Xnuiem (558191) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783030)

I look at the several open source projects I have done, from just a few lines of code, to several thousand, and I think success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If i have users, and users that enjoy the software I am happy. I am just elated when the users get on my forums and help each other out. Not only are there people out there using my software, but people that like it enough to keep coming back to my site and post helping other less experienced users with issues and chit chat.

Open Source Success. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783034)

Most of the time Open Source Projects are something you start to solve a problem for yourself or you company and you release it open source for other people to use it so they wont have to program it them selves. So often for smaller open source projects popularity and success is not really that important, it got the job you needed done and it works. If other people like it then thats great. If they don't like it then no loss for you. Now the trick to make an Open Source product that is successful and profitable. The first part is coming up with an idea that a lot of people want and cant find a good solution elsewhere. Advertise to people who may be interested and see if they are willing to help out. When the project gets to a usable feature advertise it some more (Word of Mouth is usually the best type) to people who could use the project. You can usually judge the success of your project by counting downloads from your site. and availability around the internet. (if your program is on say on most of the distributions and you are getting a lot of email about how to improve your product. Then you may have a good OSS project. Well you want to profit from this... Well you can offer to install it at location for a profit. Sell CDs of it. Polish up on your public speaking and give speeches to linux expos and stuff. Offer support for your product. Garentee to add features for money the more money the faster they get done. Basicly the open source model is just like the closed source model. But you are giving away the software and selling services. There is still supply and demand, competition, expenses taking place.

There's one criterion for OSS success. (1)

Dthoma (593797) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783042)

It has to be a project at least three years old. Just look at Perl, PHP, Mozilla, Linux, GNU...

bLING (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783044)


Its the charisma (5, Insightful)

mnmn (145599) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783045)

Some projects are simply on the right spot. Good examples are X11, SDL and Mesa. There was overwhelming need for it, so more developers quickly joined ranks.

Some projects are outright glamorous in a geeky way. Anyone working on the Linux kernel enjoys the respect of any geek for instance. Stuff like drivers and VM are supposedly tough subjects and anyone involved in ANY way is much more kool than someone making widow managers, no matter how complex.

Some projects provide the much needed high of bashing the Goliath. Wine and Samba fall in this category. Look ma! No windows. And seeing Bill Goates and Balmer try and pull the rug under a project that makes no money is just glorious.

Projects really attract various developers for various collections of reasons. The best reason is the most original.. to scratch that geeky itch. Thats how Linus started the kernel and how others like Alan Cox joined in. Thats how UNIX was originally created and BSD nurtured in the universities. Being so big now, the opensource world has other reasons kicking in, like a smart student seeing the market is kaput, realises he needs something big put on his resume fast. Thusly security and networking projects boom! Included here are also java-related projects.

The most popular projects reach there because theyre there at the right time. Apache didnt quite start out with the best design, but a good webserver was NEEDED, and apache most of the time had more features than the rest.

How do popular projects maintain their status?? Momentum of course. Both apache and the Linux kernel are good examples. FreeBSDers fume on why dont teen hackers flock to BSD. Everyone knows Linux, and once its in the upper parts of the corporate, everone needs to learn it. The media follows it and the natural positive feedback keeps it going. True also for proprietary software, like the most used OS out there for example. Bad quality but who can stop THIS momentum easy??

Yet some softwares quality and design are simply good. They have the power to dethrone the champion. Qmail simple came and is gradually removing sendmail from its position. Proftpd is removing wu-ftpd, and we can only hope Linux or FreeBSD does the same to Windows.

Simple (2, Interesting)

PissingInTheWind (573929) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783071)

Quality, Usefulness, Progress, Maintenance.

Quality, because you want something that works. Usefulness, because else there is no use to the code. Progress, because you want the project to evolve constantly. Maintenance, because you don't want to use software that has a buggy, unmaintained codebase.

What Linus said... (4, Insightful)

LMCBoy (185365) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783074)

Hmm, a lot of the posts seem to be missing a big point.

A good metric for "success" in an OSS project must be whether the developers have fun hacking on it. Even Linus has said repeatedly that he made the kernel "just for the fun of it".

Most of the projects are hobbies, and the point of a hobby is to provide an interesting diversion for the hobbyist. If thousands of people get to enjoy a web browser/OS kernel/game/whatever as a side effect of the hobby, well that's just dandy. But if it isn't a commercial product, then who cares about market share, step-3-Profit!, or any of that other nonsense?

Re:What Linus said... (2, Insightful)

hachete (473378) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783369)

the corollary might be:

someone *other* than the project creator takes over the maintenance/leadership of the project. It *must* be fun/love/etc if it gets to this stage, right?


Success with Open Source (3, Interesting)

Lieutenant_Dan (583843) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783084)

The following points have served me well in the last few years as I've made more and more of my projects open source:
  • a strict adherence to published standards
  • good (but not necessarily correct) source code, so that others can read it
  • documentation, especially if revised by people who implemented your project
  • constructive criticism from end-users
  • a few deployments in non-profit organizations
  • some deployments in the corporate world
  • a cool name!

Fun (4, Interesting)

jaaron (551839) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783085)

Are you still having fun?

I've commited some of my spare time to open source projects and even started a few pet projects of my own. While success can sometimes be measured by number of users, or downloads, or mailing list traffic, I think it's worthwhile to step back from the project and make sure you're still having fun. At least that's important for those of us who develop open source software as a hobby as opposed to those who do it for a living (and there are many more hobbiest out there). If suddenly you find yourself dreading to read your mailing list or fire up you text editor or IDE, then you know it's time to take a break or re-evaluate the project.

Then again, every developer and project has different goals and really it's only by these individual metrics that a project or individual's success can be measured.

There was an interesting thread on the Jakarta general mailing list about this a couple months ago. You might want to check it out. []

What Makes an Open Source Project Successful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783087)


Having a closed-source product to copy.


The important gateing factors... (4, Insightful)

tlambert (566799) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783091)

The important gateing factors on any Open Source project are:

1) Motivation (a problem to solve, that people
can agree upon)

2) Working code (something that comes close to
solving the problem, or from which people can
see a solution)

3) Community (communications and peers to provide
a context in which the work can take place)

A lot of people have #1, so they declare a Source Forge project, try to cookie-cutter #3 (impossible to do), and leverage having #1 and #3 into someone creating #2 (also impossible to do).

Mozilla had #1, some of #3, and almost none of #2 for a very, very long time, and it's still suffering the backlash from it (for example). BSD did not take off until Bill Jolitz made it boot. Fetchmail sort of works, but no one cares. Etc..

As a matter of fact, I claim that, given any #2, I can *find* #1, and *create* #3.

It's trivially easy to start Open Source projects by the dozens, if you are even a halfway decent coder: just make something good enough to work, but lacking enough to convince a group of people that they could (and should) improve it, rewrite it, or otherwise do better.

That sounds like most modern commercial software, to me, since it has legacy design factors from the 1980's/1990's causing it to need documentation, support, and training materials as part of the (no longer relevent) copy protection systems that grew up around the software developement process.

Seriously, it took a *lot* of skill to come up with the first Word Processor that needed documentation for people to be able to use it ("PC Write"). The author, Bob Wallace, said at one convention where he spoke, "Software...", gestured expressively above and to the sides of his head, " all up here. I sell manuals.".

-- Terry

in my opinion.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783107)

what makes a project successful, is not just if the goals and deadlines of the project are met, but if when you go to feltch the cum juice from his rectum after you've penetrated his firm buttocks, you don't get a lot of dribble on your face.

Well, it depends (5, Insightful)

Ian Lance Taylor (18693) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783109)

There is no one definition of success for an open source project. Anybody who starts one should have some goals in mind (e.g., hack on cool code, make something which solves a problem for me, make something which is used by 100/1000/1,000,000 people). Success is meeting those goals.

Here are a couple of examples.

I wrote GNU/Taylor UUCP. When I started, success for me was to develop a UUCP package which would be widely used by people without the money to spend on AT&T UUCP, and to be the premier UUCP package on free Unix systems. I met those goals.

I was the GNU binutils maintainer for a few years. During that time, success for me was providing, on multiple platforms, 1) an assembler which could handle whatever gcc generated; 2) a linker which was compatible with the system linker (on a non-free Unix system), and was faster; 3) tools which were very fast on free operating systems--specifically, much faster than gcc so that they were not the bottleneck for development; 4) adding full support for shared libraries. Those goals were only partially met--on Solaris, in particular, the Sun linker was better.

If you don't have any goals, then you can't succeed. If you can't measure your goals, then you can't know whether you have succeeded.

A very hard question (2, Insightful)

idfrsr (560314) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783114)

I think that (even though this may be obvious) that the 'success' of a project largely depends on its initial goal. Traditional measures don't really cut it.

For example , if I start an open source game, and my goal would not be to make the next DOOM/UNREAL/HALF-LIFE killer for linux, but to have fun trying something hard. So the success of the project of that would be how well I did that, with or without the help of others. Anything after that would be a bonus

If a project is really ambitious in what it wants to achieve (mozilla, WINE, etc...) then its success will depend on more tangible factors... how bug tracker submissions (is anyone trying it out and care enough to report bugs), how many downloads are there (is the word out?).

The real catch though is that OSS is much more dynamic. My OSS uber-linux game might become a huge success and become much more ambitious as a result and so the project could start to take shape as something much more elaborate. This aspect is a huge advantage and disadvantage of OSS. The project will change as whoever becomes interested or disinterested in it.

So, perhaps a successful project should have interest in it by whomever. At least by the developpers involved, and of course in a general sense as well. It doesn't really matter if it becomes 'the sliced-bread' of OSS (as much as the developpers may dream - a definite good thing) but as long as someone cares about it. Most projects suck, some are good ideas poorly implemented, some are bad ideas well implemented and some manage to get both right (Apache?). They all have potential, but without someone caring that initial potential will go nowhere.

So if you are still interested in developping your project, then I would say its still a success.

insertFeelGoodOSSComment(char *s="I can make a difference!")

Success means... (2, Funny)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783119)

Going past the "0.1 - Thinking about it" phase in Sourceforge.

It's all downhill from there.

in my organization (which is why im posting ac) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783126)

we once had a very successful project in which we took a prostitute, knocked her teeth out, then took turns french kissing her bloody mouth.

one point of view (1)

sirinek (41507) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783133)

How about how well the piece of software manages to stay true to its objective? One of the great things about OSS is that people can take source code and fix it up to do something they need but at the same time, 1000 people with their hands in the pot has the tendency to make a project go nowhere and collapse under its own weight.

Does something useful (1)

nuggz (69912) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783140)

I think all that is needed is for the product to do something useful.
If I make or find something that does something useful, and actually works, it is a success.

I have several simple scripts that are successful, they simply do what I want.

|=005 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783147)

1337/\/355 /\/\4|{35 1!/\/|_|>0|2

Mozilla, Gnutella, maybe java....bloated & slo (1)

zymano (581466) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783174)

open source failures if you ask me. Alot of opensource is useless feature bloated and slow and therefore becomes useless. I might include OPENOFFICE and Linux as slow but not failures.

GCC was on that list but they got smart when they changed with the fork. Alot of opensource is not successful if you ask me.

Re:Mozilla, Gnutella, maybe java....bloated & (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783407)

I can't comment on Gnutella, or Open Office but I am wondering what logic you use to call Linux bloated? I mean its not like when you compile it you can'y opt in or out of almost every kernel funciton save for the absolutly required stuff like the schedualin g system. You can still easily get a kernel down to 500K smaller if you really try I would bet, and that is without modules. To call java bloated is also somewhat trollish because to do what JAVA does it sorta the VM sorta has to beable to do everything, now wether or not you ever really need to use a tool like JAVA or should ever is an other debate. Mozilla is as we comment in the process of shedding its so called bloat. Howver even in its current release if you do your own build and get in no deeper then ./configure --diable-featureX you can build a lean mean mozilla with a reasonable memory footprint. Features are never bloat unless you don't need them and as long as you can do your personal installation without the stuff you don't need its not fair to call something bloated.

I notice (3, Insightful)

Apreche (239272) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783187)

What makes open source projects successful is obvious. Look at things like Mozilla, gaim, DC++, CDex, etc. What do they all have in common?

Most open source projects fall into one of the following categories.

1)A program someone wrote for themselves, and decided to make freely available for the heck of it.

2)By geeks for geeks.

3)Done by a group, for free and open, but thinking like a commercial product.

3 are the succesful projects. They have good GUIs, they don't crash, they have features that make them better than commercial alternatives, they install easily, they work on many OSes, and they are generally useful. They are often mistaken for commercial products. Slick interface is key. They just happen to be free and open.

Goals (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783200)

I think that success can be reasonably defined as attaining goals.

So the answer to your question is wholly dependant on your goals for the project.

Do you want to out-rank Linux on Freshmeat?

Do you want to clone a commercial app?

Do you want to create the gold standard app for a particular purpose?

Do you want to learn a new language?

If attain your goal, that would be success. If you end up taking a detour that is as interesting, useful, or fulfilling as your original goal, that is probably success as well.

Anything else is probably failure.

You seem to equate success with popularity. Download stats are pretty easy to monitor. You could do google searches for your project and your "biggest competitors" and count the hits. (You could even do sucks/rocks analysis.)


My Goal: (1)

UnknownQ (84898) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783228)

My goal is to have something that is useful to myself. Nobody writes code for free (as in beer) if it isn't useful to themselves. So if my code does everything I need well (no bugs), then I have succedeed (and can call it 1.0).

why does there have to one definition of success (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783244)

The question implies there's one definition of success and as the responses show, success is many things. Western culture has a tendency to define success on a monolithic scale. In other words "if you make 1 million a year. you're successful." Does a project necessarily even need users to be considered a success by the developers.

The sooner western culture gets away from "monolithic thinking" the better off we will be. So many of the problems in our society is the result of that. Actually that's wrong. It's not just America, it's the whole world. When people stop thinking for themselves and believe what some one else says, we get stupid fanatics. As bhudda said it best, finding a balance for oneself is the way to happiness. well he didn't say that exactly, but something like it.

Recognition (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783261)

I can't claim to be part of any largely used OSS projects but in the smaller circles I travle, recognition is all I look for and how I define success. You want to hear "That perl script thing that dude worte to scrape all my assignments off blackboard is really cool." in the Union. That is how you know your project has been a success.

Win friends and influence people (3, Interesting)

Ian Lance Taylor (18693) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783267)

As I and others have said, success for an open source project is defined by meeting your goals.

But let's say your real goal is to be a respected member of the open source community (which, as we all know, leads to fame, groupies, and vast wealth). What should you do to meet that goal? (Actually, there are several ways, but I'll only talk about ones which involve starting an open source programming project, since that is what the original question was about.)

First, your project needs to be something which other people will want to use. Don't write another mail reader. Write something new, at least new to open source. If you don't know what people want, you'll have to ask them. In general, your project needs to either be an open source replacement for an existing proprietary program, or it needs to create a new and interesting niche.

Second, your project needs to work, at least minimally. You have to be able to get it to the point of working, either by writing it yourself or talking people you know into pitching in. If your project doesn't work at all, few people will contribute to make it better.

Third, you need to sell your project by mentioning it on Slashdot, on relevant mailing lists, and on relevant web sites. You need to do this respectfully. One approach is ``I'm looking for suggestions on how to improve my FOOBAR program. It can already do AMAZING THINGS, and I'd like to know how to make it work better for specific users.''

If you follow these simple steps, you too will be on the road to fame and fortune! When you get there, just don't forget the little people who helped you along the way.

What makes it successful? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783287)

Lots and LOTS of ANAL SEX [] . Just lots and lots of it.

Oh, we weren't talking about OPEN SORES? My bad.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (1)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783307)

Profit can be measured any number of ways. I think that the biggest incentive for most OSS projects is some form of "my name in lights" recognition factor.

For instance; OpenBSD Leader Theo De Raadt has to sell tee-shirts and cds in order to pay his developers. You could say that the OpenBSD project is a failure as it does not generate revenue. However, this is misleading as OpenBSD is the premiere free unix in terms of stability, reliability and having "no remote holes in the default install".

So, while Theo will never need to worry about finding a tax shelter, he does get to bask in the fact he is widely acknowledged [sp?] as being the 3l33+ of the 3l33+...and by that measure, OpenBSD is an unparrelled [sp?] success!

Tolerance for forks, tolerable forks (4, Insightful)

wfmcwalter (124904) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783316)

Those large projects that move forward at a decent pace seem to be those that have a high tolerance for forks. Forks are generally "considered harmful", but in fact forks in a tolerant, open-minded, and "adult" environment are highly beneficial.

Good forks have the following in common:

  • they fork off to do major changes to an existing product, changes that require a destabilisation of the codebase that would prevent the main product from doing necessary maintainance and incremental fixes
  • the "factions" (the forkers and the forked-from) stay on good terms. Everyone keeps a (mostly) level head, and both factions see the wellbeing of the other as important.
  • changes from the fork are migrated back, piecemeal or wholesale
  • often either the fork or the original branch are deprecated, and the fork fused

Consider some good forks:

  • mozilla -> phoenix -> mozilla(whateveritisbird)
  • X11 -> XFree
  • GCC2 -> EGCS -> GCC3
  • linux is perhaps the best example - two major branches running all the time, and both (particularly the 2.3, 2.5, etc. dev fork) heavily forked themselves. 2.5 changes are often backported to 2.4, even to 2.2, and the maintainers all still talk to one another.
By way of contrast, the GNUemacs/Xemacs fork is a prime example of a bad fork. Bad blood, wilful incompatibility, divergence, duplication of effort.

If XFree's current "governance fork" turns into an all out code fork then that would, I fear, be a bad fork - all that bad blood will surely make things very difficult technically.

So perhaps the best advice to a successful project is "encourage forks, and provide a safe environment for them". Apache and Mozilla both do this, to their benefit and credit.

Some might argue that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783354)

An open source project is succesful when it makes Bill poorer and the world richer.

easy (1)

pizza_milkshake (580452) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783380)

you know the thing works if large corporations and/or governments try to stop you. ask dvd jon, phil zimmerman, justin frankel, ...

This is actually two questions (1)

CloseHauled (126475) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783386)

It seems to me that this is actually two questions with a serious caveat.

The first caveat is how we define Success. In a strictly software engineering sense, success is the fulfillment of all of the requirements in the initial requirements doc as well as the requirements in the detailed, technical requirements document. Out in the wild, software success is measured in different terms. Terms like installed user base, overall user satisfaction and often sales or other money-related, measurable metrics. For free and open source software, I see no reason to abandon the non-monetary metrics. Installed user base and market share are two very good metrics even when the customer got the software for free.

The two questions this one breaks down to are:

1. How do we measure the progress of the project during primary development

2. How do we know that the project is successfull once completed (this is basically answered in the caveat)

The answer to those questions relies almost entirely on the stated goals of the project (the stuff in that boring requirements document) and the definition of success

Question 1 is much more interesting and useful than question 2 for various reasons. What metrics are useful in guaging the success of a project while it is in development? This encompasses a whole lot of area but the primary thrusts should still be similar to traditional software project management. Namely, creating metrics to measure the quality of the product and to measure the progress of the project.

Quality metrics include things like comparisons to the requirements, code reviews, and statistical analysis of the code to estimate the number of bugs per XXXX lines of code and thus the number of bugs in the entire project. Many metrics like this are only useful if there are industry averages available for comparison.

Progress measurement is an entirely different beast. It can be based on a timeline(planned functionality implimentation over time) or based on the overall completion of the project (we just finished 3 of our 6 primary goals so the project is roughly 50% completed). Of course, the developer may weight the functionality points differently depending on their complexity. The real pain here is requirements migration over time. This is a big problem for OSS because developers love to continually add functionality as they go and there aren't any project managers to keep them in check.

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy answer here. Finding the answers will take a bit of work and invariably depend on the individual project in question.

code quality and user satisfaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783417)

I think code quality should be enough for success. Open Source by definition is something we'd all want. Therefore it should measure success by the quality of its code.

Also, who says you can't tell if users are satisfied? There are many ways you can gather feedback even for open source projects. You thinking it totally flawed to think user feedback is a non-issue with communally developed code. It is in fact its major shortcomming.

The 1-minute, A+ philosophy final exam answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5783434)

What Open Source Project?

Boston Consulting Group's Survey of OSS Developers (1)

fruscica (637745) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783438)

According to The Boston Consulting Group's Summer 2002 survey [] of open source developers, the three ways project initiators can best serve developers are:
  • create the initial code base (cited as one of the top three ways by 48.6% of respondents)

  • continue to contribute code throughout the duration of the project (34.3%)

  • communicate the promise of the project (32.3%)
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