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24 December 2012, 16:42

Taking open source foundations to the next level

by Glyn Moody

Given that now even some small open source projects are forming their own foundations, Glynn Moody thinks that perhaps open source foundations have come of age. He suggests that the time may now be right for the formation of an umbrella foundation to help share best practices, legal advice and other information and support.

Krita is a fine sketching and painting program, but few would claim that it is one of the big names in the open source world, such as Firefox or LibreOffice. That makes the following recent announcement noteworthy:

The Krita community is proud to announce the creation of the Krita Foundation!

Officially named Stichting Krita Foundation, the Krita Foundation has been created to support the development of Krita, especially by searching funding to sponsor actual development work, like for instance Lukáš Tvrdý has been sponsored before, or by organizing creative, open content projects like the Comics with Krita DVD. Currently, the Krita Foundation is sponsoring Dmitry Kazakov, who is for instance working on performance improvements.

Those projects have have been really beneficial to Krita, and the Krita community expects that having the Foundation in place will make it much easier to start new projects and sponsorships. The Foundation will also provide more continuity and accountability. Plus, it's much easier now for everyone, users, fans, supporters to support Krita's development, either with a one-off donation or a subscription.

Open source foundations like the Linux Foundation, Apache Foundation, Eclipse Foundation and Mozilla Foundation are high-profile organisations that have cropped up increasingly in The H Open and elsewhere. They are part of a shift to more formal structures for helping to run free software projects that offer counterpoises to commercial approaches that see one company acting as the main focus. As the Krita announcement points out, benefits include making it easier to start new projects and to raise money to support coding.

So while the general idea of setting up foundations is eminently sensible, it's still surprising that a relatively small project like Krita is taking this route. What this signals, I think, is that open source foundations have now come of age, and are no longer exotic constructs adopted by a few outliers.

That's confirmed by the appearance of specialised research in this area:

The research reported in this article attempts to discover who holds the power in open source software foundations through the analysis of governance documents. Artificial neural network analysis is used to analyse the content of the bylaws of six open source foundations (Apache, Eclipse, GNOME, Plone, Python, and SPI) for the purpose of identifying power structures. Results of the research suggest that: i) the actions of an open source software foundation are centered around one of three groups: Members, Chairman/President/Executive Director, and Board of Directors; ii) in only one of the six foundations is the Board of Directors responsible for both the community and the product; and iii) artificial neural network analysis of the content of bylaws provides unbiased insights of the power structure of open source software foundations. These results may prove useful to those who contribute to open source foundations and use their products and services.

Again, the fact that such relatively arcane analysis can be conducted at all suggests that open source foundations have matured to the point where they have enough in common to be considered as a coherent group.

Next: Time for an umbrella?

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