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Understanding Open Source Software Development

Understanding Open Source Software Development

Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald

Dec 2001, Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN13: 9780201734966
ISBN10: 0201734966
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Open Source Software Development offers the first serious (and academically rigorous) study of the OSS phenomenon. The authors examine several key aspects of OSS, for example:

Definitions of OSS and Free Software, including a comprehensive guide to both OSS and non-OSS software licences.
Profiles of key OSS products, projects, companies and organisations.
Analysis of the technological motivations for OSS development, with explicit reference to the possibility of OSS addressing the "software crisis."


Joseph Feller & Brian Fitzgerald


This book is not the last word; last words are about dead things, and

Open Source development is quite lustily alive. But it is an important

step along the way, answering some questions and raising others that

will continue to be live and fruitful research topics.

Welcome to the conversation..."

From the foreword by Eric S. Raymond

Propelled by headline products such as Linux and Apache, the development and manufacture of Open Source Software (OSS) has become a multi-billion dollar industry in recent years. Unsurprisingly, much has been written about this phenomenon, but the central issues involved are too often obscured by myth, misunderstanding, and partisan opinion. In Understanding Open Source Software Development, Joseph Feller and Brian Fitzgerald have assembled the first complete and objective synthesis of the available literature, offering a unique one-stop reference for developers, researchers, managers and anyone else needing to grasp the key issues about OSS.

The book addresses the fundamental questions of "what, why, when, where and how" the Open Source process has been able to produce category -killing software without the support of a traditional software engineering environment and without the support of a traditional software company's marketing machine. In doing so, the authors provide:

  • An understanding of the Open Source Definition and the major Open Source Licences;
  • A context for OSS in the history of software development;
  • An analytical framework for describing and understanding the OSS phenomenon;
  • A roadmap of the key organizations and projects involved in OSS;
  • An exploration of what motivates the adoption of OSS products, processes and business models;
  • A critical discussion of the strengths, weaknesses and paradoxes of OSS development.

Understanding Open Source Software Development is complemented by the Open Source Resources portal at, featuring regularly maintained links to OSS companies, organizations, projects, publications, news , opinion, research and events.

Joseph Feller and Brian Fitzgerald have been extremely active in promoting the rigorous academic investigation of Open Source Software. They have guest-edited special issues of the Information Systems Journal and IEE Proceedings-Software on the topic, and were the lead organizers and proceedings editors of The 1st Workshop on Open Source Software Engineering held at ICSE 2001.

Joseph Feller is a Lecturer with the Business Information Systems Group, University College Cork, Ireland. His research on Open Source Software is published in several prominent conference proceedings and he is the author of Customer Friendly: Design Guidelines for eCommerce. He also edits the monthly professional journal, Inside XML Solutions.

Brian Fitzgerald is Senior Researcher with the Executive Systems Research Centre, University College Cork. He is an Associate Editor for the Information Systems Journal and Data Base, and author or co-author of four books and more than 50 papers. He has presented research at a number of international conferences, and, prior to entering academia, spent more than fifteen years in industry.

Visit us on the world wide web at:

a. Why Study Open Source Software?
i. The Software Crisis
ii. Market Penetration/Industrial Buy-In
iii. Compelling Theoretical Issues
b. How to Use the Book
i. Intended Audiences (Course-based, Research-based, Professional)
ii. Online Supplements (OPEN reSOURCEs, Contacting the Authors)
iii. Structure of the Book
Section One: Background
1. Overview of Open Source Software
2. The History of Open Source and Free Software
3. The Landscape of Open Source Software
4. Deriving an Analytical Framework
5. Characterising Open Source Software
6. The Open Source Software Development Process
7. Open Source Software Development Tools
8. Technological Motivations for Open Source Software
9. Economic Motivations for Open Source Software
10. Psycho-Social Motivations for Open Source Software
11. When (and Why) Open Source Fails
12. Challenges and Opportunities: The Future of Open Source Software
Appendix: Recommendations for Researchers

  • Offers the first serous & rigorous treatment of the subject.
  • Offers a comprehensive analysis of the methodological, technological, economic, and psycho-social dynamics of OSS.
  • Assumes no previous knowledge of OSS on behalf of the reader, and provides both formal and functional definitions of OSS and the related term, Free Software.
  • The book is supported by a frequently updated online resource centre.

Dr. Joseph Feller is a College Lecturer in Business Information Systems, University College Cork. Previously, he was an Adjunct Professor at the Ringling School of Art and Design, in Florida. He was awarded the PhD by National University of Ireland, University College Cork.
Dr. Brian Fitzgerald is a Statutory Lecturer in Business Information Systems, University College Cork. He was awarded the PhD by the University of London and has published papers on systems development methodologies in a number of international academic journals, including IEEE Software, Information & Management, Journal of Information Technology, and The Information Systems Journal, and has presented systems development research at over 20 international conferences

Expert Reviews

Information Research - a paper that, incidentally, has attracted almost 2,000 'hits' since last July. There is, as a result, a certain degree of familiarity with everything about this book - both subject and authorship!

Raymond, in the Foreword, comments that this is the first attempt to pull together the various strands in the development of open source software that the pioneers of this approach have not had time, or perhaps the inclination, to put together themselves. This, indeed, appears to be the case. The authors have clear objectives: they note, in the introduction that they wished to produce a book that would be useful to both academic and professional readers:

On the academic side, we have endeavoured to provide... a thorough sythesis and analysis of the OSS research that has appeared to date... On the professional side, we wanted to disseminate the significant volume of rigorous academic reearch into OSS development practices back into the development community.

The authors define Open Source Software by reference to the Apache, which has an OSD licence, and is the most used server software in the world, with (at November 2001) 56.5% of the market. Key among the terms of the licence are; that the vendor must maintain the integrity of the author's source code by providing 'patches' that make changes when the software is 'built' on the user's machine, rather than my modifying it before distribution; that there should be no discrimination against persons or groups of persons; and that the user should be able to modify the source code and share those modifications with the author and with others. The fact that companies like Red Hat, seller of the Linux programming language, Netscape and even IBM are happy to beome involved with OSS suggests that the process must bring benefits.

The authors describe the process that gives the benefits, noting that the process is parallel, with many developers simultaneously involved in the process, rather than a single software team in a commercial sofware company, that there is genuine peer review of suggestions and code in the process of creation, that there is increased user involvement, and that the process uses a succession of rapid releases of new versions, ensuring that users always have the latest version available quickly. The also explore also the weaknesses and problems of OSS, and en route, discuss the organizations involved in the OSS movement and how the development process in managed. They also suggest that the key issues in OSS are not technological, but sociological, in that the process explores a new way of working that may well extend into other fields of endeavour.

This book is well written, clear in its exposition, well illustrated with quotations from people in the OSS 'movement' and from other industry leaders and will serve as a useful text on this mode of software development.

The first author, Feller, maintains a Web site on open source software, which provides resources and links to supplement this text.

Professor Tom Wilson

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