Launching a project and then rallying community support can be complicated, but the new guide to Starting an Open Source Project can help.

Increasingly, as open source programs become more pervasive at organizations of all sizes, tech and DevOps workers are choosing to or being asked to launch their own open source projects. From Google to Netflix to Facebook, companies are also releasing their open source creations to the community. It’s become common for open source projects to start from scratch internally, after which they benefit from collaboration involving external developers.

Launching a project and then rallying community support can be more complicated than you think, however. A little up-front work can help things go smoothly, and that’s exactly where the new guide to Starting an Open Source Project comes in.

This free guide was created to help organizations already versed in open source learn how to start their own open source projects. It starts at the beginning of the process, including deciding what to open source, and moves on to budget and legal considerations, and more. The road to creating an open source project may be foreign, but major companies, from Google to Facebook, have opened up resources and provided guidance. In fact, Google has an extensive online destination dedicated to open source best practices and how to open source projects.

“No matter how many smart people we hire inside the company, there’s always smarter people on the outside,” notes Jared Smith, Open Source Community Manager at Capital One. “We find it is worth it to us to open source and share our code with the outside world in exchange for getting some great advice from people on the outside who have expertise and are willing to share back with us.”

In the new guide, noted open source expert Ibrahim Haddad provides five reasons why an organization might open source a new project:

  1.    Accelerate an open solution; provide a reference implementation to a standard; share development costs for strategic functions
  2.    Commoditize a market; reduce prices of non-strategic software components.
  3.    Drive demand by building an ecosystem for your products.
  4.    Partner with others; engage customers; strengthen relationships with common goals.
  5.    Offer your customers the ability to self-support: the ability to adapt your code without waiting for you.

The guide notes: “The decision to release or create a new open source project depends on your circumstances. Your company should first achieve a certain level of open source mastery by using open source software and contributing to existing projects. This is because consuming can teach you how to leverage external projects and developers to build your products. And participation can bring more fluency in the conventions and culture of open source communities. (See our guides on Using Open Source Code and Participating in Open Source Communities) But once you have achieved open source fluency, the best time to start launching your own open source projects is simply ‘early’ and ‘often.’”

The guide also notes that planning can keep you and your organization out of legal trouble. Issues pertaining to licensing, distribution, support options, and even branding require thinking ahead if you want your project to flourish.

“I think it is a crucial thing for a company to be thinking about what they’re hoping to achieve with a new open source project,” said John Mertic, Director of Program Management at The Linux Foundation. “They must think about the value of it to the community and developers out there and what outcomes they’re hoping to get out of it. And then they must understand all the pieces they must have in place to do this the right way, including legal, governance, infrastructure and a starting community. Those are the things I always stress the most when you’re putting an open source project out there.”

The Starting an Open Source Project guide can help you with everything from licensing issues to best development practices, and it explores how to seamlessly and safely weave existing open components into your open source projects. It is one of a new collection of free guides from The Linux Foundation and The TODO Group that are all extremely valuable for any organization running an open source program. The guides are available now to help you run an open source program office where open source is supported, shared, and leveraged. With such an office, organizations can establish and execute on their open source strategies efficiently, with clear terms.

These free resources were produced based on expertise from open source leaders. Check out all the guides here and stay tuned for our continuing coverage.

Also, don’t miss the previous articles in the series:

How to Create an Open Source Program

Tools for Managing Open Source Programs

Measuring Your Open Source Program’s Success

Effective Strategies for Recruiting Open Source Developers

Participating in Open Source Communities

Using Open Source Code

Sam Dean

Sam Dean

Sam is a freelance writer for The Linux Foundation.
Sam Dean