Practical Technology

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Do open-source projects need strong leaders?

GNOME, the popular Linux desktop interface, took a hit today. Its popular leader Stormy Peters left GNOME for Mozilla to work on the open Web. GNOME, which has been struggling with getting its critical 3.0 release out the door, will be the poorer for her absence.

This got me thinking. How important our “leaders” to open-source projects? We tend to think of open-source projects being lead by top developers. Sometimes that’s true. Without Linux Torvalds, the top developer, would we have Linux, the major operating system or, as is the case the BSD Unix family, a handful of relatively minor operating systems? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying, just to get this out of the way, that FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and the other BSDs are technically great and that they’re not used in many important sites. They are darn good and many top Websites and data centers use them. All that said though there are probably a hundred Linux users to every BSD user.

Without Linus though, I think “Linux” would just be another somewhat obscure Unix-like operating system. But do you have to be a coding wizard to lead an open-source project to success?

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