Home / Bugs and eyeballs

One of the most popular open source myths is ESR’s oft-quoted statement: “given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow”. This actually is not a myth, it’s very true. What is not true, then? That there are any eyeballs to spare in open source projects. Advocates could claim that open source is inherently better, more secure and has less bugs if there were trains of trained professionals dying to look at the (open) source and contribute code, bug fixes and documentation to open source projects.

Now back in the real world: lack of contributors is the biggest problem of every open source project I’ve ever seen. Even the most sexy, most visible projects like Linux kernel, Apache or Mozilla, attracting the biggest number of developers, don’t have enough of them. There is a reason why it took Mozilla 4 years to ship and new releases of both Linux and Apache were a looong time in the making. With smaller projects the situation is not just bad, it’s desperate.

Conclusions:

  • never fall for “a lot of eyeballs” propaganda; it’s not true
  • if you start an open-source project expect to not get any help; plan for it