Book review: Producing Open Source Software <i>by Karl Fogel</i>

Many people who start an open source project just announce their project without any prior planning. But now Karl Fogel—who has worked on the development teams of CVS, GNU Emacs and, most recently, Subversion, and is also the writer of “Open Source Development with CVS”—has introduced an extremely comprehensive project guide that will change the way people begin and think about open source projects.

The book’s cover

(Editor’s note: The author of this book has used the term “open source” rather than “free software”. In this case the two terms can considered synonymous.)

The contents

This three hundred and two page book covers most every major topic that a free software project will ever have to face, from choosing a license to setting up basic necessities like a mailing list and source code repository to managing money and volunteers, all the while pointing out some common pitfalls and giving the author’s own personal insight from his experience in these areas.

I don’t think such a comprehensive guide has even been created for this topic before. Likewise, I doubt any information source of this magnitude has ever been made available for open source projects, and project starters. Karl brings over three hundred pages of comprehensive data into simple to understand topics that even those new to open source concepts can understand.

Karl brings over three hundred pages of comprehensive data into simple to understand topics that even those new to open source concepts can understand

The book begins with a history of the open source movement, tracing the concept back to before it was even titled “open source”. It shows how this early open source group struggled and then grew to become what we now know as “open source” today.

The book presents topics in the basic order that a project would encounter them, with comprehensive information on how to get major tasks like documentation and releases done. There’s also plenty of information on how to find free software products to perform project tasks, with sections on version control systems and bug trackers as well as others mentioned throughout the text.

Who’s this book for?

It’s written so that it will not only benefit new projects, but also provide a knowledge base for existing projects, making it a great investment for anyone interested in open source projects and the open source movement in general.

It also provides tips for those who are releasing proprietary code as open source for the first time. With tips on how to prepare existing developers for the change, how to switch the project over to an open source license and how to announce the project once it’s ready.


I doubted that anyone could write so large a general resource for open source projects without becoming extremely monotonous. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is not only very informative, but interesting as well, without becoming tedious. The book’s quality was exceptional and I suspect the author spent an extensive amount of time researching the various topics.

The author’s explanations of the various needs of an open source project are very intuitive, and will be just what many people starting an open source project will need. The large amount of in-depth information, insightful tips from the author and helpful topics make this book a great value.


Those who are very familiar with some of the topics covered in this book may find them over explained; likewise, some people may like more information on a certain topic, although in most cases the author does provide a link to more information.

Title Producing Open Source Software
Author Karl Fogel
Publisher O’Reilly
ISBN 0596007590
Year 2005
Pages 302
CD included No
FS Oriented 10
Over all score 10

In short


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