Faster, Better, Cheaper: Open-Source Practices May Help Improve Software Engineering

ARLINGTON, Va.—Walt Scacchi of the University of
California, Irvine, and his colleagues are conducting formal
studies of the informal world of open-source software
development, in which a distributed community of developers
produces software source code that is freely available to share,
study, modify and redistribute. They’re finding that, in many
ways, open-source development can be faster, better and cheaper
than the “textbook” software engineering often used in corporate

In a series of reports posted online (see, Scacchi is documenting how open-source
development breaks many of the software engineering rules
formulated during 30 years of academic research. Far from
finding that open-source development is just software
engineering poorly done, Scacchi and colleagues show that it
represents a new approach based on community building and other
socio-technical mechanisms that might benefit traditional
software engineering.

“Free and open-source software development is faster, better
and cheaper in building a community and at reinforcing and
institutionalizing a culture for how to develop software,” said
Scacchi, a senior research scientist at UC Irvine’s Institute
for Software Research who has taught software engineering for
two decades. “We’re not ready to assert that open-source
development is the be-all end-all for software engineering
practice, but there’s something going on in open-source
development that is different from what we see in the

Scacchi and his colleagues are studying open-source projects
to understand when the processes and practices work and when
they don’t. These findings may help businesses understand the
implications of adopting open-source methods internally or
investing in external open-source communities. The studies are
supported by several Information Technology Research awards from
the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal
agency that supports fundamental research and education across
all fields of science and engineering.

Three projects—one by Les Gasser at the University of
Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Scacchi, one by Scacchi and John
Noll of Santa Clara University and one led by UC Irvine’s
Richard Taylor—are applying the lessons learned from open-source
practices to create new design, process-management and
knowledge-management tools for large-scale, multi-organization
development projects.

“In many ways, open-source development projects are treasure
troves of information for how large software systems get
developed in the wild, if you will,” Scacchi said.

For news release is here


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