Is More Consolidation of Open Source Leadership Coming?

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 03, 2010

In case you missed the news, Stormy Peters, who functioned as executive director of the GNOME Foundation, has stepped down, and you can read her blog post about the decision here. Peters, a very well-known open source leader, is moving on to Mozilla, where she will purportedly work on the open web. She had been leading the GNOME Foundation since 2008, and, of course, her decision comes immediately after Canonical made the decision to standardize on the new Unity shell, causing many to wonder about the future of GNOME.

Peters' move to Mozilla is particularly notable, though. Among the questions it raises are whether open source communities are headed for consolidation, and whether that would be a good thing.

According to Peters' post, she will continue to have some level of involvement with GNOME, but received an attractive offer:

"So I am really sad to say that I am leaving my paid position as Executive Director. It’s been really hard to write this blog post because I really don’t want to leave. (And I won’t be leaving – more on that later.) However, I’ve been offered a great opportunity to work on the open web at Mozilla. As you all know, I think we need to be pushing for freedom on the web as much as we’ve pushed for it on the desktop. So I see this next step as continuing in my contributions to making sure users have a completely free and open experience when using technology."

The move sounds like a good one for Peters, and users of Mozilla's many high-quality open source products. It won't be a surprise to see more notable open source pundits move to new roles, or to see the open source arena consolidate going forward. Many observers are convinced that the era of endless fragmentation of Linux distros, for example, is drawing to a close. That could point to community leaders behind existing distros working with each other on an increasing basis, or jumping ship and bringing knowledge from one project to another one. 

Even in the world of us open source bloggers, there are notable moves. Matt Asay, one of the best known bloggers on open source topics, was named Canonical's COO recently, overseeing Ubuntu and more.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wonders, in the wake of Peters' exit, if open source community leaders need strong leaders:

"If you want an open source project to really move forward, you might be able to pull it off without a superstar programmer leader. But without a top-dog, whether they can program their way out of a paper bag or not, that can lead developers to creating great work, you're in trouble."

Open source projects of all stripes do need strong leaders, and let's hope that the GNOME Foundation names one. Still, it may not be the worst thing for the existing pool of open source leaders to consolidate. Mozilla swings a big stick, and will swing a bigger one with Stormy Peters. Commercial open source companies are finally finding success, and platforms like Android are spreading their influence all over the world. The bigger the projects from players like Mozilla and Google get, the more likely it is that existing open source leadership will consolidate around them.