At Adobe we are working on adopting something we call Open Development. The idea is similar to the concept of “Inner Source” as first coined by Tim O’Reilly, a moniker for describing software projects that are internal (i.e. not open source) but within company walls and networks these projects behave like open source projects.

When Adobe acquired Day Software in 2010, we also acquired a company with a rich and deep history in open source, particularly within the Apache Software Foundation. Open Development was introduced to help us learn how these projects function within our own walls.

I use the term “we” loosely here; at the time I was at a different company, so I wasn’t involved in any of this. When I joined a few years ago my primary assignment was to become familiar with Apache Jackrabbit Oak, a project that is foundational to the product I work on. Through my work on Oak and eventual earning of PMC membership and committer rights I’ve learned a lot more about open source projects and the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). Pretty much every human on the planet has no idea just how much of what they value in their life is due to the existence and success of the ASF. You could say I’m a fan.

The ASF provides some pretty clear information on their view of the software world and how project governance should be handled, which they call “The Apache Way”. Similarly, there are guidelines for Open Development projects - but in spite of this I’ve seen a lot of variance in the levels of “open” in Open Development. To borrow a bit from “Animal Farm”, all Open Development projects are open, but some are more open than others.

My involvement with the ASF while employed at Adobe carries a bit of serendipity in another way. I’ve been having this growing feeling for at least the past ten years that commercial software development is fundamentally broken in some very serious and pervasive ways. The ASF presents a stark contrast to this, with a track record of delivering thousands of releases useful, high-quality software across hundreds of projects over the past 20 years. As I learn about Open Development, I’m starting to see what I think are key differences between how ASF projects run and how they run inside companies - not just at Adobe, but everywhere (or at least everywhere I’ve worked).

The consequence is that I’m trying to become more involved in our Open Development adoption efforts. We might unlock a key to improving software development in a meaningful way.