Here come the open source rookies!

A look at the most active new open source projects from 2010

In the rapidly changing world of open source, it's interesting to look at popular new projects on the leading edge. Black Duck (my company) just announced its list of open source "Rookies of the Year" for the third year running.  Annually, we try to separate the future Hall of Famers from the future Go Down in Flamers. The press release does a nice job outlining the study and the winners.

This year the process was easier than in the past because of the new luxury of a wealth of data from our acquisition of Ohloh.net. That helped us zero in quickly on what's hot and what's not. There's always a little subjectivity involved, but the top secret formula behind the process takes into account things like commit activity, team size, and links to, and age, the idea being that activity and support in a project's first year are good indicators of future performance.

This year Diaspora was the hands-down winner along every dimension. The software is a framework for decentralized social networking. The popularity seems to be tapping into everyone's concerns about the "big brother" aspects of Facebook. In a decentralized social media world, individuals house and control their own data. What a perfect application of open source. The project started in the middle of the year and should be ready for alpha testing shortly.

There are some interesting aspects about the composition of the list. First, there's definitely a cloud flavor to the list with most of the projects having some cloud relevance, from OpenStack, overtly a cloud computing platform, to SparkleShare, a collaboration application certainly applicable to the cloud. Given all the activity in the space and the inherent synergy between cloud and open source, this is not a big surprise.

Along another dimension, three of the projects are hosted on Github (Dispora, CloudIDE and RapidFTR) and two on Gitorious (SparkleShare and OwnCloud). Clearly the newer forges are coming on strong and this also speaks to the increasing popularity of distributed source control management systems like Git and Mercurial. This trend is born out in the top fifty list from which the ten were chosen. It's also worth noting that one of the projects is on Microsoft's Codeplex.com, reinforcing the growth in popularity of open source in the .NET world.

With respect to licenses, three (Diaspora, RapidFTR and ownCloud) are under the Affero General Public License.  Historically, IT organizations and SaaS companies have been less exposed to IP risks because the concerning obligations of so called "copyleft" licenses are triggered upon software distribution. The authors of the AGPL sought to close this loophole by triggering obligations on usage on a network server. Keep an eye on the Affero License. With the rise of the cloud, more and more open source developers may be looking to control downstream use through its means.

I wish I had the crystal ball to know how the Rookies will fair through their "careers." (We're actually planning to start tracking our Rookies going forward.) What I will predict is that the observations around cloud, git and the AGPL are, in fact, trends that we will continue to see in open source going forward.

Do you see any other trends in this list? Are there any projects you think belong on the list?

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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