This entry was inspired by my buddy Michael Kimsal, actually I had been thinking a bit about how personalities inspire or retard the advancement of various open source projects. For instance, reiserfs was my first experience with journalized filesystems, in fact it has always been my filesystem of choice. It plays well with NFS and it has always been reliable. Nonetheless, the future of reiserfs is in jeapardy due to the ongoing legal problems of its lead developer. It also seems that the lead developer ruffled the feathers of many of the kernel developers, who would be principally responsible for merging the reiserfs code into the Linux kernel. I do hope the community and Namesys (commercial entity sponsoring reiserfs project) can come to a very agreeable compromise. Similarly, I have witnessed JÃ¶rg Schilling and Nemosoft, both of these developers produced work which allowed me to be productive. Cdrecord and the pwc driver (Philips ToUcam) respectively were stables for my Linux desktop. Unfortunately, both left the community under dubious circumstances. For whatever reason, these guys had a tough time dealing with Linux kernel developers. Luckily their code still remains. Hence the goodness of FOSS ;)
I would have to agree, personalities of lead developers typically can make or break a project. If the person is amicable, or at least accessible it really goes a long way for adoption by end-users and also developers close to the kernel. Personally, I have used Slackware for number of years because I was able to make a connection with the community and a few of lead developers. The experience has been immensely gratifying. No, I've never sat down and had dinner with Pat V, but he is accessible and even responds to email.
When I was first introduced to Debian in 2000, I was fairly new to that community and quickly learned that you really must RTFM:) Once I began to ask better questions, I realized the mailing lists weren't that bad after all. Some years later, I discovered that some of the Debian developers maintained blogs and hung out on IRC. So I began to leverage that communication channel.
In a nutshell, placing the face with the package or the distribution will help engage people to the project. If the benevolent dictator has any charisma or at least is accessible, it then becomes easier to form a virtual bond or network with that individual. This theme has been pervasive inside the FOSS community. The advent of social media has made this even more possible than during the very early years of simple pseudo public mailing lists.
I understand that some Redmond developers are now blogging too. Somehow, I don't believe that average Windows user is very interested in having direct communication with the M$ developers. Methinks this is because *their* community was not built upon sharing and transparency. FWIW, this probably applies to Apple too. Those communities are largely left to fend for themselves. What usually happens is that an ecosystem of third-party developers is created because of the closed nature of Redmond and Cuppertino. Buggy software or an unscratched *itch* is solved via shareware. If the end-users of those communities are unwilling to pay they simply suffer. That is the law of the land, or least that is how I see it :)