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Project management lessons from the FreeDOS Project

A lot of people seem to think that open source is a magic solution to project management and that open source projects will automatically attract a large and healthy community of contributors and users who will improve the software. This, of course, is not the case. In fact, creating a successful open source project is a really major and difficult effort. You have to deliver an initial promise that people find interesting, attract other people, then facilitate and lead the community, etc. You just have to look at all the failed projects on SourceForge that never delivered any code to see that "open source" is not a guarantee for success.

Even though project management is a key element of every open source project, there are only few resources about this topic. That's why I always enjoy reading about the experience from open source project leaders. Jim Hall, the founder of the FreeDOS project, recently posted a series of four articles which I find particularly interesting.

Here are links to the articles along with a quick summary:

  • Free and Open Source Software: the first article just describes what free software and open source are all about. It also looks at Raymond's model and compares the cathedral and the bazaar style of development.
  • Open source software in the real world: this article summarizes a number of key lessons learned: every project needs a clear purpose (i.e. you have to solve an actual problem); initial users of the software should be recruited as developers; releases are important; and every project needs an active coordinator or maintainer.
  • Cultivating Open Source Software: you need a web site; making the source code availability in an easy way is important; documentation is often hard to write but is vital; you need a bug tracking system and responding to bug reports is important to attract good feedback.
  • Transitions in an open source software project: finally, when you need to hand over the project, make sure to communicate openly, arrange for your replacement and stick around to ensure a successful hand over.

I really like these articles from Jim Hall since they contain a lot of great insights that apply to other projects, so I suggest you check them out!

(Originally published on FOSSBazaar)