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Why Some Open Source Projects Thrive at Oracle

Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) has had a mixed bag of success with open source.

As part of the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle inherited a long list of open source projects. Some of them, like OpenOffice and OpenSolaris have met with community opposition that have led to forks.

In the case of OpenOffice, the LibreOffice fork has emerged, while Oracle has now backed away from commercial support of the project. With OpenSolaris, Oracle has decided to focus on Solaris 11, while the community Illumos fork picks up the open source mantle.

The NetBeans IDE however is another story. Under Oracle's leadership, NetBeans is thriving with nearly a million active users.

Since acquiring Sun, Oracle has made three major NetBeans releases, expanding features and capabilities. The most recent NetBeans 7.0 release added support for Java 7.

What makes NetBeans different? Why is it succeeding under Oracle's leadership while other projects are not doing as well?

According to Duncan Mills, senior director of product management at Oracle, NetBeans' open source success is due to a mix of factors.

"One of them is that we have a development team which is very focused on building a great open source product and are very passionate about it," Mills told InternetNews.com. "We have a lot of commitments at the highest levels in Oracle to help NetBeans succeed."

Mills added that there is a very strong community aspect within NetBeans at Oracle.

"NetBeans has always had the idea of engaging with the community, early and often," Mills said. "So the community has a say in what goes on."

Going a step further, Mills noted that the community is also involved in the governance of the project as well. Mills said that elections for the NetBeans governance board were recently completed. The NetBeans governance board is the group that helps steer the whole product direction and it consists of both Oracle and external people.

"In the NetBeans case, there has always been a strong kernel of community in the NetBeans team that has been very vocal in the last year or so, to make sure that the voice of the external lover of NetBeans is listened too," Mills said. " I think the fact that we engage with folks regularly and give them a voice, is really the key to what has made NetBeans successful as a project."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.