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Open Source for the Enterprise by Gautam Guliani, Dan Woods

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How Maturity Affects Required Skills and Resources

One policy that is reasonable, especially for beginners, in the early stages of skill building is to just forget about all but the most mature open source projects. This means that many powerful programs are available—Linux, Apache, Mozilla, MySQL—but it perhaps misses the point of pursuing an open source strategy.

In fact, the most mature rank of open source is only the tip of the iceberg. A huge number of open source projects are less mature but still extremely valuable. Some of the biggest wins in open source can come from using a well-built but obscure program created to solve just the problem an IT department has. The key to success in using such software is to evaluate and experiment to really understand what you are getting into.

For example, different gaps in maturity require different skills:

  • A beginner can overcome a lack of documentation, but evidence of bugs that require expertise to fix are showstoppers.

  • As a beginner, all the needed features must be included. But an advanced- or expert-level team can add them.

  • If the community is small, plan on time for reading code, experimenting, and figuring things out for yourself.

The odds are against most projects—even the ones that deserve to be more popular. So, it is wise to plan for how the product will be supported if development slows to a crawl.

The good news is that flying blind is not required. The only things standing in the way of evaluating a project are skill and time. ...

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