FLOSS - Governance

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This entry refers to the governance models involved in the free/libre open source community.


Benjamin Mako Hill:

"There are two types of non-profit organizations in the free/open source community. The first is the large-project foundation. Example are the GNOME Foundation, KDE Foundation, and Plone Foundation. These support and work closely with one large and otherwise institutionally independent project.

The second type is concerned with advocacy or issues of concern to many or all free software projects. The FSG/LSB, Open Source Initiative, Software Freedom International, Linux International, and the Free Software Foundation are all examples of this type (although the FSF also supports the GNU Project so can be put into both camps)."


  1. Linux - Governance
  2. Fetchmail - Governance
  3. GNU Compiler Collection - Governance
  4. Firefox - Governance
  5. Debian - Governance
  6. Ubuntu - Governance


Three types of control/regulation

"The espoused imagery of highly autonomous regulation in FLOSS projects is known to be paired with control regulation by a limited group of core developers. So too in the project analysed. However, a third form, distributed community regulation among peers, is also witnessed as central to the functioning of the project." (http://www.sciencestudies.fi/v20n2EditorialPDF)

Source: The Functioning of a Free Software Community: Entanglement of Three Regulation Modes - Control, Autonomous and Distributed. Science Studies, Volume 20/2007, Number 2

How do "Free Libre Open Source Software" (FLOSS) projects govern themselves?

Various studies suggest is that FLOSS projects have a onion-like structure:

"The focus of these studies has largely been on the contribution of code and they therefore have largely discussed development centralization. At the center of the onion are the core developers, who contribute most of the code and oversee the design and evolution of the project. In the next ring out are the co–developers who submit patches (e.g., bug fixes) which are reviewed and checked in by core developers. Further out are the active users who do not contribute code but provide use–cases and bug–reports as well as testing new releases. Further out still, and with a virtually unknowable boundary, are the passive users of the software who do not speak on the project’s lists or forums." (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_2/crowston/index.html )

See in particular: Item1, http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_11/lehmann/index.html " This paper takes a closer look at FLOSS developers and their projects to find out how they work, what holds them together and how they interact."; Item 2, on accountability in Open Source projects, at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_11/david/index.html

FLOSS-POLS, a EU-funded research project, claims it is "the single largest knowledge base on open source usage and development worldwide" and its 'third track' examines " the efficiency of open source as a system for collaborative problem-solving", see at http://www.flosspols.org/ . The peer-reviewed journal First Monday dedicated a special issue to 'open source as a social process', at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_11/index.html

The Professionalization of Linux

The following article by Business Week is the result of an in-depth investigation regarding the actual production of Linux:

“Little understood by the outside world, the community of Linux programmers has evolved in recent years into something much more mature, organized, and efficient. Put bluntly, Linux has turned pro. Torvalds now has a team of lieutenants, nearly all of them employed by tech companies, that oversees development of top-priority projects. Tech giants such as IBM (IBM ), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ), and Intel (INTC ) are clustered around the Finn, contributing technology, marketing muscle, and thousands of professional programmers. IBM alone has 600 programmers dedicated to Linux, up from two in 1999. There's even a board of directors that helps set the priorities for Linux development. Not that this Inc. operates like a traditional corporation. Hardly. There's no headquarters, no CEO, and no annual report. And it's not a single company. Rather, it's a cooperative venture in which employees at about two dozen companies, along with thousands of individuals, work together to improve Linux software. The tech companies contribute sweat equity to the project, largely by paying programmers' salaries, and then make money by selling products and services around the Linux operating system. They don't charge for Linux itself, since under the cooperative's rules the software is available to all comers for free." (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_05/b3918001_mz001.htm?)

The article also explains that in essence, the cooperative methodologies are intact, we paraphrase: “it’s still a pure meritocracy, with code open for all to see, it’s the best and most dedicated who rise to the top of being Torvarld’s top aides. No orders are given, everybody knows what they want to do, and just do it . Linus has power, but he doesn’t have it by fiat, but because people trust him. The process is: 1) individuals submit patches; 2) maintainers, responsible for specific functions improve them; 3) Torvalds and top aide Morton review them, suggest changes, and eventually add them to the kernel, aided by management software; 4) every 4 to 6 weeks, a new test version is sent out and thousands of individuals test it. It’s managed by a series of contentric circles. The first circle is a venture capital backed Open Source Development Labs with a board of directors which sets priorities; the second circle are the Linux distributors such as Red Hat and Mandrake, who pick up a new version once a year and send it to their corporate customers. However, there is no bowing and scraping to the rich and powerful, and corporate managers do not directly pressure the community. ‘Software coups’ are rejected by the community."

More Information

FLOSS projects are forms of Peer Production, using models of Peer Governance.

FLOSS Foundations is an informal grouping of people involved in the leadership of such foundations.