What's in the Zone?

Community-Powered Applications

Posted by indroneel on March 8, 2007

Community-powered applications have a significant amount of their development effort and post-rollout support provided by external users1. While Linux remains by far the largest and probably the first community effort, there are many others that deserve mention under this category. Some of these applications are as listed below:

  1. Mozilla Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.
  2. Winamp Media Player
  3. GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)
  4. Eclipse Development Environment
  5. OpenOffice free office suite
  6. Nullsoft Installation System

In general, community-powered applications implement a core set of functionalities and provide an application programming interface (API) related to those functionalities. The API is used to create plugins that extend the capabilities of the core application. Extension points may also be provided to apply themes and skins that alter the look and feel of the application.

While there are many applications that meet the prerequisites outlined above, only a select few among them can be branded as community-powered. The key differentiating factors being:

  • a large population of external users contributing to development and growth.
  • the amount of contributions made (measurable as code base size, feature count, number of plugins and themes provided, etc.)
  • continuous participation.

Community-powered applications can be open-source or closed-source2. Some of these open-source applications actively involve the community to develop their core functionalities in a managed environment (e.g OpenOffice). Others may share the source for the purpose of code walk-through, defect detection and suggestion for enhancements (e.g. Eclipse). For closed-source applications, the community participation is restricted to plugin-based functional and visual enhancements (e.g. Yahoo! Messenger, Adobe Photoshop).


[1] These are users who are neither a part of the core development team, nor employed with the vendor organization.

[2] The term “closed-source” is not meant to be an antonym for open-source. In the present context it applies for applications that are made available in binary formats only.


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