Eclipse 2010 Survey Notes Contribution in Open Source Software Projects Declines
I saw from Dana Blankenhorn's blog post the other day that the Eclipse Foundation has once again published its excellent annual survey of Eclipse usage in the world. This is an annual survey that is always interesting because it shows the rise of many free and open source software projects beyond the Eclipse world and their subsequent competition with each other and the traditional products in the marketplace (e.g. Windows, Oracle). There were 1696 completed surveys this year to last year's 1365, i.e. there were almost 25% more respondents this year.
Dana caught sight of a trend noted by Ian Skerrett in his blog post announcing the survey:
Trend #7. Open source participation seems to be stalled. In the survey, we asked a question about the corporate policies towards open source participation. In 2009 48% claimed they could contribute back to OSS but in 2010 only 35.4% claim they could contribute back. Conversely, 41% in 2010 claimed they use open source software but do not contribute back but in 2009 it was 27.1%. Obviously not a trend any open source community would like to see. I am not sure the reason companies would become less restrictive in their open source policies. Any insight or feedback from the community would be appreciated.
The question as asked in the survey reads differently to me: What best describes your organization's policy towards the use of open source software? (Choose one.) Possible answers were:
- Does not allow the use of any open source software (1.4%)
- Uses open source software, but does not interact with open source project communities in any way (35.6%)
- Uses open source software and contributes back (through bug reports, code, resources) to at least one open source project community to help improve the quality of the projects we consume (30.7%)
- Contributes significant development resources (contributors, committers and/or maintainers, project leaders) to at least one open source project community in order to help influence the evolution of the projects we consume (7.7%)
- Has a business model that relies on open source software for its success (11.4%)
- Individual, not affiliated with an organization (9.2%)
- Don't know (4.1%)
There hasn't necessarily been an increase in participants that say they can't contribute, but rather that they don't contribute back. Dana and Ian both ask why this might be the case. Looking to the demographics, there may be a number of reasons.
There's an increase in the percentage of financial services participants over the years (6% to 6.8% to 8.4%). This is a group that has historically been careful in how they contribute and where. The IT crowd is also interesting because using FOSS means that they don't need to figure out how to talk with the accounting department to create a PO for a software trial to solve a problem, but turning it around to the contribution side of the equation, they also don't need to figure out how to find a lawyer to ensure they're giving back in an appropriate manner.
There's an increase in the number of students over the last two reports (8.6% in 2007 down to 8.1% then to 9.8%). This number may be the more interesting set of numbers because the fewer students, the higher the contribution status it seems in the graph (p. 27 in the 2010 report). There are absolutely students that contribute and whose contributions are deeply valued by a number of open source communities, but as a rule, they would be less experience developers and are faced with the learning curves of the project, the technology, and the growth of their own programming skills. This has significance in terms of things that are accepted by the community. They also may simply not know how to contribute as many FOSS repositories do a poor job of delivering the guidance to develop a vibrant community that encourages new developers to join.
All in all, the survey is always a great piece of work and the other trends it finds in it's developer community are always interesting.