Last week I got an email from Paul Breach over at IBPhoenix who was kind enough to supply some comments about my post on the database market. Paul stated that,
Its true that there is no single cohesive face for Firebird, and this is a situation I have tried to rectify a couple of times, unfortunately that issue is part of how Firebird was born. As an abandoned child of a failed open source attempt by Borland. Because of this no single company "owned" the code, so we had to rely on volunteers to get the project going.
Now the project is run by a project admin team, consisting of those who are most active within the project - "true democracy" :-). The project is financed by the Firebird Foundation and a company called IBPhoenix. IBPhoenix was a company I started at the time when Firebird was open sourced.
So there is a company behind Firebird that offers professional support, training etc etc and the people who work for it are all actively involved in the project in various ways. I for example look after porting to MacOSX, Solaris and HPUX, we are also responsible for the windows builds, release notes and QA.
So should anybody argue that we cannot offer fully supported production deployments, then I would argue that they were wrong.
I decided to post these comments because they help portray a key dilemma facing a number of open source projects that have managed to stick around and establish a respectable level of critical mass. For example, Paul mentions the circumstances under which Firebird was formed and came of age, i.e. how the project was volunteer driven after being abandoned by Borland. The result: an egalitarian-centric project that doesn't rely on an individual face to represent it.
Decidedly, this form of "true democracy" continues to work well for the project. However, it also creates the false perception (in the minds of outsiders) that the project lacks clear and decisive leadership. Maybe I should have rephrased my initial comments on it by saying that the project continues to appear as if it lacks a cohesive face and/or supporting vendor. Obviously this isn't the case (as Paul pointed out), but in the absence of something that essentially "represents" the technology, it becomes the default assumption. At the end of the day it's rarely a negative when a person and/or identifiable company culture is associated with a product. After all, they can serve as integral aspects of any brand.
If anything, the Firebird community, like so many others in the general open source community, will benefit from painting a clearer picture of its structure. Why? Because a stronger link between Firebird => Firebird Foundation => IBPhoenix immediately dispels the notion of a not quite viable database floating around in the atmosphere. For those who won't ever experience a hands-on use of the database this does count for something. The effect that expressing that there is more than one group of people involved/interested in an effort can be quite powerful. In fact, it can add a layer of instant credibility just like that.
My take on what Paul expressed to me is that, part of the equation involves understanding that a project like Firebird should be gauged differently...especially considering the non-traditional model it employs. And honestly, the fact that it may not register on most folks' radar does not directly qualify as a weakness. So while I still believe the project has tremendous room to grow, for all intensive purposes it still exhibits most of the core elements of open source success.