OpenOffice.org developer Michael Meeks analyzed 2008 commit data to show that the project is losing steam: decreasing numbers of commits, developers, and companies. He rhetorically asks about how the project is losing technical quality:
Why is my bug not fixed ? why is the UI still so unpleasant ? why is performance still poor ? why does it consume more memory than necessary ? why is it getting slower to start ? why ? why ? – the answer lies with developers: Will you help us make OpenOffice.org better ?
Meeks identifies the lack of growth in the community as the core problem and his suggestions for improving the software product are about redesigning the community to be more responsive to developers, to welcome newbies better, and to simplify the act of contributing. Notably, he doesn’t suggest a single technical change for improving bugs, the UI, performance, or other features.
Maybe this is a better example than mine of Django and Rails: developers don’t tend to get irrationally competitive about office productivity suites and stop listening like they do web frameworks. (This is part of why OOo is in more trouble than Django.) The point is the same, though: a healthy, active community is the only guarantee of a an open source project’s viability. Community determines whether a project keeps up with its competition and redefines the limits of its field, or maintains the status quo, or becomes unreliable and unusable.