The True Measure of a Successful Open Source Project

By September 15, 2014Blog

Linus Torvalds meets Zachary DupontA question I get a lot is, “What makes an open source software project successful?” This isn’t a simple question, as every project is really different. But certainly there are some common characteristics: a vibrant and open community and ecosystem of contributors, an innovative goal or technology and investments from a diverse set of stakeholders are just a few.

Business benchmarks and market share help measure the success of a project over time. A blockbuster like Linux can tout nine code changes per hour, $10.8 billion in shared R&D investment and millions of developers. It runs 65 percent of smart mobile devices, 95 percent of high performance computing market, 55 percent of the embedded systems market, and most of world’s stock exchanges.

But there is another measure of success that is extremely powerful: inspiring someone to think, to question, to imagine. When we do this we help build a new generation of inquisitive, smart technologists who will surprise us with their innovation and invention in the years to come. The next great technological innovation won’t be built by a single company but seeded by an inspired, passionate individual. People, not companies, make the difference.

I met a young man a few weeks ago that embodies this ideal. Seventh-grader Zachary DuPont joined us at LinuxCon in Chicago after writing a letter to his hero, Linux creator Linus Torvalds, that arrived in the Linux Foundation mailbox. The letter (handwritten, not by email) was part of a school project and the assignment was to reach out to someone who inspired you. When we received the letter we invited Zach to meet his hero in Chicago, which he did on opening morning of the event. That night when I was talking to Zach and his parents he told me that day was the “best day of my life.”

This is the sign of a truly successful project. Inspiring people and engaging them so they can build with us. We’re excited to follow Zach as he gets to know the community and determines how he will make a difference, too.

At LinuxCon we welcomed famous people like the CEO of Local Motors and the founders of Docker and the Open Prosthetics Project, among others, but the highlight of our event was welcoming Zach. You can meet him and hear his story in this short video: