Quick, think of a free, open-source application!
If I were betting on this, I would put my money on “Firefox” as your answer. Simply, it is the poster child for the open-source movement. A few lessons can be taught to the open-source community from the success of Firefox:
- Firefox is gaining ground in the browser market. Why? It is a superior product when compared to its infamous brother Internet Explorer. While Internet Explorer still holds the majority of the market share, I haven’t met anyone who has switched back once having discovered Firefox. In other words, being open-source isn’t good enough for most people. There has to be enough compelling features to warrant a switch.
- Firefox isn’t a copycat browser. The project clearly has its own direction, and is paving the way for the web of the future. That spell check in text areas?- not something copied from IE. Firefox extensions?- again not an IE copycat feature. Tabs? Its worth arguing that IE’s tabs feel like a cheap copycat of Firefox. You will never get ahead by copying something that is already available. The biggest offender? OpenOffice.
- Firefox has many contributers. It is developed by an organization with a proven track record, and competent developers. Its accepts patches from the community. Google pays Mozilla for promotion of its search engine (and probably contributes patches as well). It takes a village to raise a child, and the same is true for a software application. Linus Torvalds is quoted as saying “Many eyes make all bugs shallow”. Conversely, we can argue that few eyes make bugs harder to find.
Firefox has already passed the ultimate test of quality in my eyes – my wife uses it exclusively. I have never even bothered to ask her why, because I already know the answer. You don’t have to be an open-source fanatic to appreciate the quality that this product offers.
So why list these points? Because I feel that the biggest obstacle that the open-source community has to overcome in finding success is collaboration. Currently, a glance at Sourceforge shows over 150,000+ registered open-source projects. In reality, this is probably a drop in the pond of the open source world. There is no end to the number of projects available – only the quality of those products.
The power of open-source is a public code-base that anyone can modify. What is the point of open-source’s greatest strength if the community fragments and duplicates efforts? I would love to see projects and developers merge talents and make more of the killer-app variety.
So enough with the music players, and image viewers, and video players. As James says, if you hold your hand out, a dozen of them fall into it. I am looking forward to the day when I find one success story that that truly can be compared to the success of Firefox.