Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Faster, better, cheaper: Open-source practices may help improve software engineering

03.12.2003


Walt Scacchi of the University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues are conducting formal studies of the informal world of open-source software development, in which a distributed community of developers produces software source code that is freely available to share, study, modify and redistribute. They’re finding that, in many ways, open-source development can be faster, better and cheaper than the "textbook" software engineering often used in corporate settings.



In a series of reports posted online (see http://www.isr.uci.edu), Scacchi is documenting how open-source development breaks many of the software engineering rules formulated during 30 years of academic research. Far from finding that open-source development is just software engineering poorly done, Scacchi and colleagues show that it represents a new approach based on community building and other socio-technical mechanisms that might benefit traditional software engineering.

"Free and open-source software development is faster, better and cheaper in building a community and at reinforcing and institutionalizing a culture for how to develop software," said Scacchi, a senior research scientist at UC Irvine’s Institute for Software Research who has taught software engineering for two decades. "We’re not ready to assert that open-source development is the be-all end-all for software engineering practice, but there’s something going on in open-source development that is different from what we see in the textbooks."


Scacchi and his colleagues are studying open-source projects to understand when the processes and practices work and when they don’t. These findings may help businesses understand the implications of adopting open-source methods internally or investing in external open-source communities. The studies are supported by several Information Technology Research awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

Three projects--one by Les Gasser at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Scacchi, one by Scacchi and John Noll of Santa Clara University and one led by UC Irvine’s Richard Taylor--are applying the lessons learned from open-source practices to create new design, process-management and knowledge-management tools for large-scale, multi-organization development projects.

"In many ways, open-source development projects are treasure troves of information for how large software systems get developed in the wild, if you will," Scacchi said.

Open-source project databases, for example, record hundreds of thousands of bug reports. Gasser and Scacchi are mining those databases to try to understand how bug reporting relates to software quality or if it has other implications. "These are unprecedented data sets in software engineering research," he said. "We’re thinking of these databases in a ’national treasure’ sense. We’re never going to get this from a corporate source."

Not all open-source projects are alike, however. A small number of open-source projects have become well known, but the vast majority never get off the ground, according to Scacchi. He and his colleagues are trying to understand how successful projects, such as the Linux Kernel, grow from a few individuals to a community of a thousand developers.

Similarly, they are trying to determine whether or not open-source software is appropriate for complex, fixed-requirements projects of interest only to a limited community (for example, air defense radar software). It is unclear whether such systems can or will ever be developed in an open manner, or whether open-source approaches would falter, while traditional software engineering approaches would succeed.

To explore the breadth of open-source activity, Scacchi and colleagues are looking at more than a hundred projects in several categories: network games, Internet and Web infrastructure, academic and scientific software and industry-sponsored activities.

The network games include PlaneShift, Crystal Space, and game "mods" for Epic Games’ Unreal or id Software’s Quake game engines. Internet and Web infrastructure projects range from Linux Kernel, Apache and Mozilla to GNU Enterprise. In another project, Mark Ackerman at the University of Michigan and Scacchi are examining how scientists working in fields like X-ray astronomy and deep-space imaging are using open-source software to support basic scientific research. More recent efforts are examining industry-sponsored open-source projects including NetBeans from Sun Microsystems and Eclipse from IBM.

"The software-intensive systems in today’s world have become so complex that we need every available design tool at our disposal," said Suzanne Iacono, NSF program director. "Open-source development has achieved some remarkable successes, and we need to learn from these successes as our systems become increasingly distributed, complex and heterogeneous. Traditional software engineering methods were originally developed for single-system design and development."

The researchers have so far identified a number of ways in which open-source development surpasses traditional software engineering. In successful projects, open-source development is faster in the pace of evolution and the rate of software growth. Expertise also spreads faster through the community.

The researchers also report that open-source development is better because of, among other features, its informality, which enables continuous system design and more agile development processes. And open-source is cheaper because the development tools are often open-source themselves and because other costs are often subsidized by corporate donations, volunteer efforts and "gifts" for the collective good.

"Open-source is not a poor version of software engineering, but a private-collective approach to large-software systems," Scacchi said. "This is perhaps a new fertile ground between software engineering and the world of open-source and may be what the open-source community can contribute to new academic and commercial development efforts."

David Hart | NSF
Further information:
http://www.isr.uci.edu/research-open-source.html
http://www.nsf.gov/

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Researchers create new technique for manipulating polarization of terahertz radiation
20.07.2017 | Brown University

nachricht Holograms taken to new dimension
19.07.2017 | University of Utah

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

Leipzig HTP-Forum discusses "hydrothermal processes" as a key technology for a biobased economy

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers create new technique for manipulating polarization of terahertz radiation

20.07.2017 | Information Technology

High-tech sensing illuminates concrete stress testing

20.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

First direct observation and measurement of ultra-fast moving vortices in superconductors

20.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>