Posts Tagged ‘opensource’

Open source development

January 6, 2009

One of the live issues in the software world at the moment is whether or not open source code can have long-term sustainability. That is, if there is no clear proprietary ownership can a user be sure that the code will be maintained and developed over a long period? Back in October I was commissioned to write up a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s OSS Watch service that looked at some of these issues. The article, “From a trickle to a flood”, has now been published.

One of the big issues is the methods, or models, that are used to create the code. There are a number of models that are being explored by different open source groups but the Oxford event focused on just one: the open (sometimes called the ‘community-led’) development model.

In this model a diverse community of developers and users work together for the longer-term benefit of the product. The argument is that sustainability can be achieved through the development of a wide and diverse community, a kind of eco-system, which nurtures and supports the code over the long term. The model works with what Harvard Internet lawyer Yochai Benkler has theorised as commons-based peer-production, a process by which everyone who contributes also gets something back that furthers their interests. One of the keynote speakers, Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, described it this way: “It is a bunch of folks, working together, with diverse motivations, and who are not bound by any strong tie – we don’t for example work for the same company…” He goes on to say that: “it is not just grabbing software, attaching an open source licence to it and dumping it somewhere. It is more about understanding and working with others. For me, it is the natural way to express oneself in a connected world”.

For people who are not used to working in this way I think these are quite hard concepts to grasp. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that Gianugo was talking from the heart. He really believes what he says and lives the open development method as a kind of credo, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Open Source Oxford

October 23, 2008

I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of days in Oxford at the Community and Open Source development workshop. A diverse mixture of researchers, software developers and open source experts gathered to debate how to build the all-important community of users and developers that drive successful open source projects. Many people think that open source is just about developing some code, sticking an open source licence on it and posting the lot to your website. Unfortunately, successful projects – those with long-term sustainability – need far more nurturing than this. The workshop explored what that nurturing actually entails and how to go about it.

My role was to act as the technical reporter and there will be a full report on the workshop in due course. In the meantime, you can view some of the slides at Ross Gardler’s slideshare space.

My other mission was to interview Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of Sourcesense, a leading European open source services company. His company made headlines a few months ago when they agreed to partner with Microsoft on an open source file reader for the controversial OOXML office document format. It was an extremely interesting interview and the results will be featuring in a couple of pieces I’ve been commissioned to produce in the near future. In the meantime though, I can reveal that Gianugo was trained as a lawyer and his mother was somewhat dismayed when he told her that he was abandoning a highly lucrative legal career to, as she understood it, “give software away for free”.