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How scalable is open source?

I was talking with Ubuntu member and director of The Open Learning Centre Alan Bell on IRC yesterday about the Launchpad bug for the Evolution default signature.

Alan suggested that in future, when we report things at OMG! Ubuntu! and link to a bug, we should encourage people to use the "affects me"  feature rather than posting a comment on the bug. Apparently bugs with many comments make developers unsubscribe.

Of course it isn’t our fault that reporting on something leads a mass of people to a Launchpad bug report – it’s probably something that Launchpad will need to look into or developers have to get used to as Ubuntu gets more popular and picks up mainstream media attention.

Anyway, regardless of that, it got me thinking: How scalable is open source?

At the moment, Ubuntu is venturing into unknown ground. Never before has an open source operating system attempted to win over the hearts of the mainstream. In fact, with the exception of a few medium sized projects such as Firefox, Moodle, GIMP, Drupal, WordPress et. al., we haven’t really tested how the mainstream would react to open source projects as large as Ubuntu.

As we grow, there will be more people contributing, more people adding comments to bug reports, more people getting annoyed at changes and voicing their opinion. In proprietary software, companies generally develop behind closed doors and then release a product. Consumers either like it or they don’t – in open source, they can have a say during the development of a product.

If we take reactions such as the window controls, the default wallpaper or the Evolution signature as examples, and then multiply that response by 10 – can we handle it? Would the processes in place, the community, and Launchpad be able to deal with an influx of new contributors or would Ubuntu implode in a giant mess of chaos?