The viability of open source forking

OpenSolaris reminds us why open community matters far more than open code

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Another community member, Martin Bochnig, also suggested caution over the issue of a fork, asking:

How are you going to replace the bright brilliant skilled and experienced Sun kernel engineers?

Yet another OpenSolaris community member, Damian Wojslaw, wrote:

We do have a community. It's alive and well. It's a community of users and administrators. We don't have community of developers. And this is why we can't just fork off and start anew.

These words speak volumes. The community around an open source project or product can certainly be vibrant without having the resources to support a fork. In fact, this is true for many open source communities, which count numerous members, very few of whom would be qualified to develop the open source project further should a fork occur. Worse, even fewer would be interested in doing so.

Insurance when forking isn't viable
For enterprises, your best insurance against fork fallout is to adopt open source products from multivendor communities. This ensures the presence of multiple stakeholders, each of which can reasonably be expected to guide the open source project forward should a fork be required.

Unfortunately, multivendor communities are rare. Far more often, you'll find open source products developed by a community controlled by a single vendor. In these cases, the likelihood of an organization to reasonably support a fork is higher if a strong partner or system integrator ecosystem exists around the open source project. Another fail-safe against fork fallout would be to implement the paid version of the open source project. Paying a vendor for its work is a good way of ensuring that the vendor isn't motivated to encourage revenue in ways that end up hurting users.

The best advice, however, may be to simply ignore -- or at least put much less weight in -- the availability of source code when making a product selection. More often that not, you will have too much at stake elsewhere to take on maintaining a forked source code should difficulties arise.

Follow me on Twitter: SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."

This article, "The viability of open source forking," was originally published at Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at

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