Open source roundtable: Chris DiBona

Google's open source programs manager stresses a developer-first approach to open source success

Chris DiBona is a key advocate of open source development at Google, where he spearheads the Google Summer of Code and oversees license compliance. A former editor of Slashdot, DiBona is no stranger to the passions of the open source community.

InfoWorld spoke with the Google open source programs manager as part of its roundtable on the state of open source. Here's what DiBona sees brewing for open source.


Chris DiBona

Open source programs manager

InfoWorld: What do you see as the most pressing challenges and opportunities for open source given the current tech climate?

DiBona: I think that open source's biggest challenge is to ignore the current tech climate and continue to create software for its end-users. The tech climate, which I take to mean the mix of commercial and market influences on technology direction, is often shortsighted and selfish. Open source software developers should be influenced only by its developer base first, and its user base second.

IW: Where do you see open source heading in the next five years, especially with regard to development, community, and market opportunities?

DiBona: Development: I see more interesting work happening in the Web toolkit/CMS space than in more tested and mature technologies like kernels and the like.

Community: I think that the community that matters most to me, that of the developers, is in a healthy state, growing slowly, without a lot of sturm und drang. That said, we'll see the regular ebb and flow of applications and projects, especially in the CMS space. For instance, I think that Drupal will be a dominant force for some time, but other CMSes might ebb a bit.

Market: Hmm, I think that Android will heavily influence embedded Linux upon its full release later this year. I also think that the "market" is contracting a little bit right now.

IW: Does widespread adoption and commercialization of open source software create new challenges or pressures for open source projects?

DiBona: No more so now than in the late '90s. The nice thing about commercial interest in open source is that you get some really good code accepted into important open source projects. The bad thing is that they also need to reject the crappy code that people submit into the same. Not all projects are good at rejecting poor coders and their code.

IW: What are the next steps needed for open source as a software production methodology to reach the next level?

DiBona: The marketplace is still trying to understand open source, and so a better question is, How long until the business world understands how to best use and take part in open source software development? I think the answer for some companies is never; and others, well, that depends on the company.

IW: Open source now enjoys a rich and complex history, which is largely the result of trial and error over the years. What would you say have been the open source community's greatest missteps, or lessons learned?

DiBona: Best lesson learned: Careful selection of your project developers is what matters.

Big missteps: I think that the world of open source doesn't pay enough attention to what the BSD operating system flavors are doing. The open, net, and free BSD communities are pretty remarkable and deserve greater recognition for their work.

Biggest misstep: It always comes down to one thing: bad code. Accepting bad code = bad project. Bad code kills open source projects dead.

IW: If you could wave your wand and create the perfect software "universe," what would it look like?

DiBona: Ubuntu.

IW: There has been a fair amount of controversy, competition, and dissent within the various open source communities. Does this lack of agreement damage the long-term goals of open source, or would you like to see more of this?

DiBona: No, I think that it is a shame that the open source development community fights so much, but ... if that's what it takes -- and I think it might be exactly what is needed -- to create great software, then so be it. It is funny, though, for all the talk about open source infighting, it is nothing compared to what is happening within some companies -- not Google, thankfully.

Roundtable home page: The state of open source

Other roundtable participants
• Matt Asay
Vice president of business development, Alfresco
• Andy Astor
CEO of EnterpriseDB
• Bruce Perens
Creator of the Open Source Definition and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative
• Sam Ramji
Senior director of platform technology strategy, Microsoft
• Eric S. Raymond
Programmer, author, and open source software advocate
• Dave Rosenberg
CEO and co-founder, Mulesource
• Javier Soltero
CEO, Hyperic
• Mark Spencer
Founder and CTO, Digium
• Robert Sutor
Vice president of open source and standards, IBM
• Zack Urlocker
Vice president of products, MySQL

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.