The manner in which they treat these projects can result in the growth or the withering away of such endeavours; the cultures are often incompatible and unless the proprietary firm is able to tend to its new acquisition properly, the project may well die.
Josh Berkus, a core PostgreSQL developer and "community guy" (that's how he describes himself), dealt with this phenomenon at the 11th Australian national Linux conference this morning - but with tongue firmly in cheek.
Berkus' talk, at the "Business in Open Source" mini-conference this morning, was titled "Ten ways to destroy your community" and described in detail how a proprietary company could go about killing an open source community which it had acquired.
Why would a company decide to kill off its open source acquisition? Well, argued Berkus, open source communities often messed up marketing plans, they spoiled product plans with unexpected innovation and they were never satisfied. They always wanted to improve things.
Such communities also often tended to redefine partner and customer relationships and they confused salespeople.
Berkus has a fancy name for his method of killing off an open source community - he calls it The Berkus Patented Ten-Step Method to Destroy Your Community. Well, it's not patented yet, but he warned the audience that he would definitely sue to collect if anyone used his Method.
The first thing that a company should do was to provide difficult tools to the open source arm, he said - things like weird build systems, proprietary version control systems, and a website based on a flaky content management system.
Next, he said, one could encourage poisonous people within the community and maximise the damage they could do. By arguing with such people at length, then banning them and later re-admitting them, one could divert a lot of attention away from useful members.