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 Gecko adhesion technology moves closer to industrial uses
13.12.2017 | Georgia Institute of Technology

nachricht New silicon structure opens the gate to quantum computers
12.12.2017 | Princeton University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests

14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective

14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility

14.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>