Thoughts in the Middle of the Night

I am just coming off an all-nighter – it has been a long time since I got so wrapped up in coding that I worked all night.

After I got to tired to code effectively, I got reading some blogs and thinking on various topics. One the things I was thinking about (obviously not for the first time) is the whole open source software movement. As always, there is a fair amount rhetoric out there regarding the superiority of open source software, the TCO of OSS applications, the advantages of development under the open source model, etc., and even conjecture about the ultimate demise of all non-OSS development.

A number of questions have always nagged at me about the claims of OSS:

  1. Believers frequently claim that OSS produces better software, with “better” defined in various ways – fewer defects, better functionality, more secure, etc. Is there empirical data to support this on a broad scale? Yes, there are examples frequently given, but usually it is a comparison of one or more highly successful OSS project against one or more bad examples of commercial, closed-source applications. Is there any broad, unbiased comparison of large numbers of OSS projects to large number of non-OSS projects?
  2. Similarly, Believers often claim that the process of open source development is much more efficient, effective, and innovative that its non-OSS counterparts. Again, OSS success stories are frequently compared to horror stories form the non-OSS world. Is there any large scale, unbiased comparison out there? For example, it is often quoted the a very large percentage of software projects are late, over-budget, or complete failures. Is the open source world any better? People always talk about the successes of OSS, but take a browse around SourceForge some time – there are a huge number of projects there that are never completed, never deliver anything, never get past Alpha, etc. The OSS statistics always seem to be somewhat selective.
  3. Many people predict the demise of closed-source development (and have for a long time). Are there any clear statistics out there as to the number of developers working on OSS versus non-OSS development (I know, many do both). Or is there information as to the economic force of OSS versus non-OSS – how much economic activity in the IT world is driven by OSS?

I don’t have answers to any of these right now – just some thoughts which occurred to me through the night – hopefully I will have time to dig deeper into this over the next while.


2 Replies to “Thoughts in the Middle of the Night”

  1. Absolutely. A stellar team will outperform an average team no matter what the process.

    However, you rarely have the option of handpicking your team and only having stars. You will always have a mix on your team, usually a couple of stars, a couple of duds, and the vast majority in between. As Bill Walsh said, the differnece between a stellar team and an average team is how you manage the people in the middle. Manage them right, and the team will be stellar.

    To that end, process and approaches are important. That was the point of my post – is there statistical evidence that the approaches and models behind OSS give you a better chance of being a stellar team, and producing better results.


  2. The whole discussion of “is proprietary software better than OSS” and vice versa smacks of schoolyard “my daddy is stronger than your daddy” discussions.

    Proprietary or OSS doesn’t matter – it’s the people behind it. If a given OSS project has a good team behind it, it is likely to be better than a proprietary product with a weaker team, and the same applies to the opposite situation – better team = better software.


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