Panelists See Benefits To Open-Source Practices

Practices such as sharing source code with business partners should be adopted by proprietary software makers, say panelists at a Carnegie Mellon University Software Center roundtable.
As interest surrounding open-source software development fades, some open-source practices--such as sharing source code with business partners, especially customers--should be adopted by proprietary software makers, panelists at a Carnegie Mellon University Software Center roundtable in Pittsburgh suggested Wednesday evening. "It's not that open source is dead; open-source hype is dead," said Frank Hecker, systems engineering manager at CollabNet Inc., a provider of collaborative software development solutions.

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."