How To Tell The Open Source Winners From The Losers - InformationWeek

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How To Tell The Open Source Winners From The Losers

Businesses must know what to look for in a project's leadership, community, and level of innovation. The wrong choice can cost you.

Decision Time
Tony Wasserman thinks the success factors are so clear that he can assign numbers to them. Wasserman, director of the software management program at Carnegie Mellon West, a Silicon Valley branch of Carnegie Mellon University, is developing a business-readiness rating service for open source code. SpikeSource (an assembler of open source code stacks), publisher O'Reilly Media, and Intel are helping with the project.

The Business Readiness Rating service is collecting public feedback on its proposal for evaluating open source code. Eventually, says Wasserman, it will host automated software tools that harvest statistics from open source project sites that help predict their likelihood of success: the number of developers and core developers, frequency of releases, support queries and unanswered queries, and the number of bugs tracked versus fixed. Those metrics will then be used in a decision-making framework to sort through open source projects. Some automated evaluation tools already exist. They include FLOSSmole (the Free/Libre Open Source Software Mole), which automatically burrows into data on an open source project site such as page views, downloads, bandwidth consumed by downloading, and number of comments posted.

Such tools have their place, but IT pros still will need to make judgment calls as open source proliferates beyond the Linux operating system and Apache Web server., Google, The Hartford, and Sabre Holdings are some of the companies that have benefited from betting early on the right open source programs. Sabre, for example, bet on MySQL for quickly serving travel information to consumers. The circle of companies willing to place their own bets continues to grow. Social networking site hi5 Networks, which gets about 18 million unique visitors a month, manages its Linux-based systems using a new piece of open source software called Hyperic HQ. As a 35-employee company, hi5 has a small IT staff and hadn't invested in a commercial system management product such as BMC Patrol or CA Unicenter.

Hi5 had used another piece of open source code, Big Brother, but decided Hyperic HQ offered more, such as alerts when systems dip below performance thresholds and historical performance analysis. As a user of Apache, Linux, and the open source PostgreSQL database, CTO Akash Garg was inclined to "give open source systems management a chance." Why? For the same reason many other companies are drawn to open source. "It's a lot cheaper," he says.

Hi5 tested the quality of the Hyperic community by posting questions to it, and had problems getting adequate answers at first. It got around that by building relationships directly with the support team for Hyperic Inc., the company behind the project, which was eager to work with an early customer of an emerging project. Hyperic has been downloaded more than 26,000 times since it became available as open source code last summer; a commercially supported version is also available from Hyperic Inc. for $500 a year.

How To Spot A Successful Open Source Project
A 9-point checklist before considering using open source.
A thriving community
A handful of lead developers, a large body of contributors, and a substantial--or at least motivated--user group offering ideas.
Disruptive goals
Does something notably better than commercial code. Free isn't enough.
A benevolent dictator
Leader who can inspire and guide developers, asking the right questions and letting only the right code in.
Decisions are made openly, with threads of discussion, active mailing list, and negative and positive comments aired.
Strong forums police against personal attacks or niggling issues, focus on big goals.
What good's a project that can't be implemented by those outside its development?
Employed developers
The key developers need to work on it full time.
A clear license
Some are very business friendly, others clear as mud.
Commercial support
Companies need more than e-mail support from volunteers. Is there a solid company employing people you can call?

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