Fixing open source software

Open source software is growing in popularity as budgets are tightened and individuals and organization look for alternatives to the paid and subscription software. There is an open source alternative for almost every commercial program or app out there from operating system (Linux as an alternative to MS Windows, Mac OS etc) to compression programs (7-zip as an alternative to WinZip and WinRar) and GIMP as a replacement for Photoshop. There are many other open source applications with which you might be familiar: Audacity (sound editing), ClamWin (antivirus), WinSCP (FTP), OpenOffice (alternative to MS Office), SeaMonkey (side-steps Dreamweaver web designer) etc etc.

Finding open source software is easier than ever now with at least two major repositories of projects online – SourceForge and FreshMeat.

But, the question a user has to ask is – is the open source alternative better than the paid for software?

One of the major benefits of open source software is that the source code, the details of the software program itself, are available for anyone to experiment with and tweak and that often means that bugs are quickly identified and removed in the next open version of a program because the user community and the team behind the program can act much more quickly and more dynamically as problems arise in contrast to the often slower response of corporate entities with shareholders to appease and overheads that must be shoehorned into budgets. But, is the defect-fixing process as perfect as advocates of the open source software movement would have us believe?

Computer scientists in Australia have analyzed 1481 OSS projects available on SourceForge and have confirmed that having a larger team behind each project and the program being available for a broader range of operating systems does indeed have a positive impact on the effectiveness of the defect-fixing process. However, they also found that in order for an OSS project to decrease its reliance on a bigger team it must choose the least-restrictive OSS license agreement. There is, after all, open and then there is open.

In spite of the increasing adoption of OSS products, many OSS projects still fail in the early stages of development, with almost two-thirds of OSS projects on SourceForge not attracting the attention of developers and users in the wider community, Amir Hossein Ghapanchi and Aybuke Aurum of the School of Information Systems, Technology and Management, at The University of New South Wales, report. They point out that effective defect-fixing can actually act as a proxy of success in OSS.

Research Blogging IconAmir Hossein Ghapanchi, & Aybuke Aurum (2011). The impact of project licence and operating system on the effectiveness of the defect-fixing process in open source software projects Int. J. Business Information Systems, 8 (4), 413-424