Re: ..reasonably substantial and useful
> I believe what you're looking for is
> called a 'book'. Say it with me...
Books are for people who don't grok Google.
More proof that Fred Brooks was right
I'd offer Fred Brooks' "The Mythical Man-Month" as an explanation for why there are so few large-scale open source projects out there. In one of the early chapters he talks about the difference between a "Program" and a "Product" (IIRC), and the set of assumptions that change when you go from building one to building the other. The result of the differences is that "Products" are much, much more expensive and time-consuming to build than "Programs."
Basically, there are a set of programs that can be built by one programmer in a reasonable amount of time (window managers, napster clients, etc) and a set (Brooks would call them Products) whose scale simply require many people to interact with one another (WYSIWYG word processors, web browsers, etc) over a long period of time. Given ESR's assertion (proven by Mozilla, I believe) that the initial release of an open-source project has to do something useful in order to attract more developers, then we've got a chicken-and-egg problem:
programmer A decides to write an ERP package to put SAP out of business. He sets up an area on sourceforge and says "hey, everyone, wanna help build an ERP package?" He's now stuck, because he *can't* build an ERP package on his own (one human doesn't have enough hours in his liftime), but he has nothing attrative enough to convince anyone else to help him.
This, I believe, is where the suits come in. The best way to break the logjam is to find someone who will *fund* the project until it becomes useful, and then release it to the public as free software. At that point people are naturally willing to jump in and fix bugs, add features, etc.
Barring that, someone needs to assemble a group of very dedicated people who are willing to put a tremendous effort into building something that won't give them any return on their investment for quite a while. This is a pretty low-probability event.
Best of luck with Rainfall!