If customers had source code, Hecker says, they could recommend fixes to bugs during the design phase instead of waiting until the proprietary software vendor released the product.
In open-source software development, source code--the primary statements and instructions written by programmers--is shared and refined by any interested party, a freewheeling process almost unheard of in the creation of proprietary software. The rationale behind open source is the more programmers involved in a product's development, the more useful the software will be. The collaborative nature of open-source practices leads to well-designed software, said panelist Bill Scherlis, director of Carnegie Mellon's Ph.D. software engineering program.
But several panelists maintained that open-source practices can't automatically be transplanted into the proprietary milieu. "It's tricky to change a process," cautioned Mary Shaw, a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, who doesn't rule out adoption of open-source practices by proprietary software vendors. Mark Evans, president of investment performance software maker Confluence, questioned whether open-source processes have the rigor needed to produce timely, commercially viable products. "Developers sacrifice individual autonomy--they perform a ballet--to get a product out early," he said. "Technical prowess isn't the top-rated feature of a programmer; predictability and consistency are."
Observing the discussion, Software Center executive director Bill Guttman suggested a new term--market source--be adopted for a business model that adapts open source's collaborative approach to the development of proprietary commercial software. "It's a neutral way to describe it and leaves some flexibility in its exact definition."