Archive for July, 2009

The different reasons for company code contributions

It was recently posted by Matt Asay an intriguing article called “Apache and the future of open-source licensing“, that starts with the phrase “If most developers contribute to open-source projects because they want to, rather than because they’re forced to, why do we have the GNU General Public License?

It turns out that Joachim Henkel (one of the leading European researchers in the field of open source) already published several papers on commercial contributions to open source projects, especially in the field of embedded open source. Among them, one of my favourite is “Patterns of Free Revealing – Balancing Code Sharing and Protection in Commercial Open Source Development“, that is available also at the Cospa knowledge base (a digital collection of more than 2000 papers on open source, that we created and populated in the context of the COSPA project). In the paper there is a nice summary analysis of reasons for contributing back, and one of the results is:


What does it means? That licensing issues are the main reason for publishing back, but separated by very few percentage points other reasons appear: the signaling advantage (being good players), the R&D sharing, and many others. In this sense, my view is that the GPL creates an initial context (by forcing the publication of source code) that creates a secondary effect – reuse and quality improvement – that appears after some time. In fact, our research shows that companies need quite some time to grasp the advantages of reuse and participation; the GPL enforces participation for enough time that companies discovers the added benefits, and start moving their motivations to economic reasons, as compared to legal enforcing or legal risks.

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The new form of Open Core, or how everyone was right

Right on the heels of the 451 group’s CAOS 12 report, I had the opportunity to perform a comparison between monetization modalities that we originally classified as open core in the first edition of our work with the more recent database of OSS companies and their adopted models (such an analysis can be found in our guide as well). An interesting observation was the shifting perspective on what open core actually is, and to present some examples on why I believe that the “original” open core nearly disappeared, while a “new” model was behind the more recent claims that this has become one of the preferred models for OSS companies.

In the beginning, we used as a classification criteria the distinction of code bases: an Open Core company was identified by the fact that the commercial product had a different source code base (usually an extension of a totally OS one), and the license to obtain the commercial was exclusive (so as to distinguish this from the “dual licensing” model). In the past, open core was more or less a re-enactment of shareware of old; that is, the open source edition was barely functional, and usable only to perform some testing or evaluation, but not for using in production. The “new” open core is more a combination of services and some marginal extension, that are usually targeted for integration with proprietary components or to simplify deployment and management. In this sense, the “real” part of open core (that is, the exclusive code) is becoming less and less important – three years ago we estimated that from a functional point of view the “old” open core model separated functions at approximately 70% (the OS edition had from 60% to 70% of the functions of the proprietary product), while now this split is around 90% or even higher, but is complemented with assurance services like support, documentation, knowledge bases, the certification of code and so on.

Just to show some examples: DimDimWe have synchronized this release to match the latest hosted version and released the complete source code tree. Bear in mind that features which require the Dimdim meeting portal (scheduling & recording to note) are not available in open source. There is also no limit to the number of attendees and meetings that can be supported using the Open Source Community Edition.” If you compare the editions, it is possible to see that the difference lies (apart from the scheduling and recording) in support and the availability of professional services (like custom integration with external authentication sources).

Alfresco: The difference in source code lies in the clustering and high-availability support and the JMX management extensions (all of which may be replicated with some effort by using pure OSS tools). Those differences are clearly relevant for the largest and most complex installations; from the point of view of services, the editions are differentiated through availability of support, certification (both of binary releases and of external stacks, like database and app server), bug fixing, documentation, availability of upgrades and training options.

Cynapse (an extremely interesting group collaboration system): The code difference lies in LDAP integration and clustering; the service difference lies in support, availability of certified binaries, knowledgebase access and official documentation.

OpenClinica (a platform for the creation of Electronic Data Capture systems used in pharmaceutical trials and in data acquisition in health care); from the web site: “OpenClinica Enterprise is fully supported version of the OpenClinica platform with a tailored set of Research Critical Services such as installation, training, validation, upgrades, help desk support, customization, systems integration, and more.”

During the compilation of the second FLOSSMETRICS database I found that the majority of “open core” models were actually moving from the original definition to an hybrid monetization model, that brings together several separate models (particularly the “platform provider”, “product specialist” and the proper “open core” one) to better address the needs of customers. The fact that the actual percentage of code that is not available under an OSS license is shrinking is in my view a positive fact: because it allows for the real OSS project to stand on its own (and eventually be reused by others) and because it shows that the proprietary code part is less and less important in an ecosystem where services are the real key to add value to a customer.

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Conference announcement: SITIS09 track, Open Source Software Development and Solution

I am pleased to forward the conference announcement; I believe that my readers may be interested in the OSSDS track on open source development and solutions:

The 5th International Conference on Signal Image Technology
and Internet Based Systems (SITIS’09)
November 29 – December 3, 2009
Farah Kenzi Hotel
Marrakech, Morocco

In cooperation with ACM, IFIP TC 2 WG 2.13, IEEE (pending)

The SITIS conference is dedicated to research on the technologies used to represent, share and process information in various forms, ranging multimedia data to traditional structured data and semi-structured data found in the web. SITIS spans two inter-related research domains that increasingly play a key role in connecting systems across network centric environments to allow distributed computing and information sharing.

SITIS 2009 aims to provide a forum for high quality presentations on research activities centered on the following tracks:

  • The focus of the track “Information Management & Retrieval Technologies” (IMRT) is on the emerging modeling, representation and retrieval techniques
  • that take into account the amount, type and diversity of information accessible in distributed computing environment. The topics include data semantics and ontologies, spatial information systems, Multimedia databases, Information retrieval and search engine, and applications.
  • The track “Web-Based Information Technologies & Distributed Systems” (WITDS) is devoted to emerging and novel concepts, architectures and methodologies for creating an interconnected world in which information can be exchanged easily, tasks can be processed collaboratively, and communities of users with similarly interests can be formed while addressing security threats that are present more than ever before.  The topics include information system interoperability, emergent semantics, agent-based systems, distributed and parallel information management, grid, P2P, web-centric systems, web security and integrity issues.
  • The track “Open Source Software Development and Solution” (OSSDS) focuses on new software engineering method in distributed and large scaled environments, strategies for promoting, adopting, and using Open Source Solutions and case studies or success stories in specific domains. The topics include software engineering methods, users and communities’ interactions, software development platforms, open Source developments and project management, applications domain, case studies.

In addition to the above tracks, SITIS 2009 includes workshops; the final list of workshop will be provided later.

Submission and publication
The conference will include keynote addresses, tutorials, and regular and workshop sessions. SITIS 2009 invites submission of high quality and original papers on the topics of the major tracks described below. All submitted papers will be peer-reviewed by at least two reviewers for technical merit, originality, significance and relevance to track topics.

Papers must be up to 8 pages and follow IEEE double columns publication format. Accepted papers will be included in the conference proceedings and  published by IEEE Computer Society and referenced in IEEE explore and major  indexes.

Submission site :

Important dates
* Paper Submission: July 15th, 2009
* Acceptance/Reject notification: August 15th, 2009
* Camera ready / Author registration: September 1st, 2009

Local organizing committee (Cadi Ayyad University, Morocco)
* Aziz Elfaazzikii (Chair)
* El Hassan Abdelwahed
* Jahir Zahi
* Mohamed El Adnani
* Mohamed Sadgal
* Souad Chraibi
* Said El Bachari

Track Open Source Software Development and Solutions (OSSDS)
IFIP TC 2 WG 2.13

The focus of this track is on new software engineering method for Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) development in distributed and large scaled
environments, strategies for promoting, adopting, using FLOSS solutions and case studies or success stories in specific domains.

Software Engineering methods, users and communities interactions, software
development platforms:

* Architecture and patterns for FLOSS development
* Testing and reliability of FLOSS
* Software engineering methods in distributed collaborative environments
* Licencing and other legal issues
* Documentation of FLOSS projects
* CASE tool to support FLOSS development
* Agile principles and FLOSS development
* Mining in FLOSS projects

Applications domain, case studies, success stories:

* Geospatial software, services and applications
* Bioinformatics
* FLOSS for e-government and e-administration
* FLOSS in public sector (e.g. education, healthcare…)
* FLOSS solutions for data intensive applications
* FLOSS and SOA, middleware, applications servers
* FLOSS for critical applications
* FLOSS in Grid and P2P environments
* Tools and infrastructures for FLOSS development
* Scientific computing
* Simulation tools
* Security tools

Development and project management:

* Ecology of FLOSS development
* FLOSS stability, maintainability and scalability
* FLOSS evaluation, mining FLOSS data
* FLOSS and innovation
* Experiments, reports, field studies and empirical analysis
* FLOSS for teaching software engineering
* Revenue models
* Security concerns in using FLOSS
* Users involvement in design and development of FLOSS
* Building sustainable communities

Track Chairs

* Thierry Badard (University of Laval, Canada)
* Eric Leclercq (University of Bourgogne, France)

Program Committee

Abdallah Al Zain (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
Claudio Ardagna (Universita degli Studi di Milano, Italy)
Carlo Daffara (Conecta, Italy)
Ernesto Damiani (University of Milan, Italy)
Mehmet Gokturk (Gebze Institute of Technology, Turkey)
Scott A. Hissam (Carnegie Mellon University, USA)
Frédéric Hubert (University of Laval, Canada)
Puneet Kishor (University of Wisconsin-Madison and Open Source Geospatial
Foundation, USA)
Frank Van Der Linden (Philips, Netherlands)
Gregory Lopez (Thales group, France)
Sandro Morasca (Universita degli Studi dell’Insubria, Italy)
Pascal Molli (University of Nancy, France)
Eric Piel (University of Delft, The Netherlands)
Eric Ramat (University of Littoral, France)
Sylvain Rampacek (University of Bourgogne, France)
Marinette Savonnet (University of Bourgogne, France)
Charles Schweik, University of Massachussets, Amherst, USA)
Alberto Sillitti (University of Bolzano, Italy)
Megan Squire (Elon University, USA)
Marie-Noelle Terrasse (University of Bourgogne, France)
Christelle Vangenot (EPFL, Switzerland)

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Just finished: the final edition of the SME guide to open source

It has been an absolutely enjoyable activity to work in the context of the FLOSSMETRICS project with the overall idea of helping SMEs to adopt, and migrate to, open source and free software. My proposed approach was to create an accessible and replicable guide, designed to help both those interested in exploring what open source is, and in helping companies in the process of offering services and products based on OSS; now, two years later, I found references to the previous editions of the guide in websites across the world, and was delighted in discovering that some OSS companies are using it as marketing material to help prospective customers.

So, after a few more months of work, I am really happy to present the fourth and final edition of the guide (PDF link) that will (I hope) improve in our previous efforts. For those that already viewed the previous editions, chapter 6 was entirely rewritten, along with a new chapter 7 and a newly introduced evaluation method. The catalogue has been expanded and corrected in several places (also thanks to the individual companies and groups responsible for the packages themselves) and the overall appearance of the PDF version should be much improved, compared to the automatically generated version.


I will continue to work on it even after the end of the project, and as before I welcome any contribution and suggestion.

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A new way to select among FLOSS packages: the FLOSSMETRICS approach

One of the “hidden” costs of the adoption or migration to FLOSS is the selection process – deciding which packages to use, and estimating the risk of use when a project is not “mature” or considered enterprise-grade. In the COSPA migration project we found that in many instances the selection and evaluation process was responsible for 20% of the total cost of migration (including both the actual process, and the cost incurred in selecting the wrong package and then re-performing the assessment with a new one).

The problem of software selection is that there is a full spectrum of choices, and a different attitude to risk – a research experiment may be more interested in features, while a mission-critical adoption may be more interested in the long-term survivability of the software they are adopting. For this reason many different estimating methods were researched in the past, including EU-based research projects (the QSOS method, SQO-OSS, QUALOSS) and business-oriented systems like OpenBRR or the Open Source Maturity Model of CapGemini. The biggest problem of those methods is related to the fact that the non-functional assessment (that is, estimating the “quality” of the code and its community and liveness) is a non-trivial activity, that involves the evaluation and understanding of many different aspects of how FLOSS is produced.

For this reason we have worked within the FLOSSMETRICS project on a new approach that is entirely automated, and based on automated extraction of the “quality” parameters from the available information on the project (its repository and mailing lists). The first result is a set of significant variables, that collectively give a set of quality indicators of the code and the community of developers around the project; these indicators will be included in the public database of projects, and will give a simple “semaphore”-like indication of what aspects may be critical and what are the project strengths.

On the other hand we have worked on the integration of the functional aspects in the evaluation process – that is, how to weight in features vs. the risk that the project may introduce. For this reason we have added to our guide a new, simplified evaluation schema, that includes both aspects in a single graph.

Creating a graph for a product selection involves three easy steps:

  • starting from the list of features, extract those considered to be indispensable from the optional ones; all projects lacking in indispensable features are excluded from the list.
  • for every optional feature a +1 score is added to the project “feature score”, obtaining a separate score for each project.
  • using the automated tools from FLOSSMETRICS, a readiness score is computed using the following rule: for every “green” in the liveness and quality parameters a +1 score is added, -1 for every “red”.

This gives for each project a position in a two-dimensional graph, like this one:


The evaluator can then prioritize the selection according to the kind of adoption that is planned: those that are mission-critical and that requires a high project stability (and a good probability that the project itself is successful and alive) will prefer the project positioned on the right-hand of the graph, while those that are more “experimental” will favour the project placed in the top:


This approach integrates the advantage of automated estimation of quality (and can be applied to the FLOSSMETRICS parameters or the previous QSOS ones) with a visual approach that provides in a single image the “risk” or inherent suitability of a set of projects. I hope that this may help in reducing that 20% of cost that is actually spent in deciding which package to use, thus improving the economic effectiveness or freeing more resources for other practical activities.

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