What makes a good open-source foundation?

Linux Foundation, Eclipse, and Mozilla, among others, do effective advocacy and development work, while others stumble and fall. What separates a good foundation from a bad one?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

I came across news this afternoon about the LiMo Foundation endorsing the Open Mobile Terminal Platform specification, and I realized that I didn't care. It's probably big news, but I couldn't get excited.

I feel the same way about most things that come out of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), but probably because the ASF isn't one for making big announcements (except when it collects cash from Microsoft). Even so, I know the ASF is a hugely important organization. Its only "problem" is that it lacks an active public relations team. But I doubt it sees this as a problem.

The Symbian Foundation, too, shows promise, but it has also been somewhat quiet.

Now contrast these organizations with the Linux Foundation, Eclipse, and Mozilla. All three provide effective, though different, examples of what an open-source foundation should be doing. They're active. They're noisy. They're influential and even critical to the development of key open-source projects.

What do they have in common? Well, each has strong leaders, both technical and business management. Each has a limited but important mission. (Here's the Mozilla Foundation's mission.) Each has the trust and funding of key constituents that contribute both code and cash. And each publicly advocates their projects.

I've suggested before that Eclipse offers a vision of open-source development to come. If anything, this belief grows daily, but it's not just about Eclipse. Foundations offer a way to make open-source development more corporate (organized in such a way that commercial vendors can participate with fewer reservations) without becoming commercial, a turn-off for many would-be code contributors.

Understanding how successful open-source foundations function, and why they succeed while lesser peers fail, is therefore critical to understanding the future of open-source development. Mozilla, Eclipse, and the Linux Foundation offer glimpses of good things to come. As for the other open-source foundations...I think they still have work to do.