FLOSS Project Effectiveness Measures

TitleFLOSS Project Effectiveness Measures
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsCrowston, K, Howison, J
Secondary TitleSuccessful OSS Project Design and Implementation

In this chapter, we develop and illustrate measures of the effectiveness of FLOSS
projects. FLOSS is a broad term used to embrace software that is developed
and released under either a “free software” or an “open source” license. While
the free software and the open source movements are distinct, both kinds of
licenses allow users to obtain and distribute the software’s original source
without charge (software is “free as in beer”) and to inspect, modify, and
redistribute modifications to the source code. While the open source movement
views these freedoms pragmatically (as a development methodology), the
free software movement emphasizes the meaning of “free as in speech,”
which is captured by the French/Spanish libre, and one of their methods of
supporting those freedoms is “copyleft,” famously embodied in the General
Public License, meaning that derivative works must be made available under
the same license terms as the original. This chapter focuses on development
practices in distributed work, which are largely shared across the movements.
For example, many (though by no means all) FLOSS developers contribute to
projects as volunteers without working for a common organization or being
paid. We therefore use the acronym FLOSS to refer collectively to free/libre and
open source software.

It is important to develop measures of effectiveness for FLOSS projects for
at least two reasons. First, having such measures should be useful for FLOSS
project managers in assessing their projects. In some cases, FLOSS projects are
sponsored by third parties, so measures are useful for sponsors to understand
the return on their investment. Second, FLOSS is an increasingly visible and
copied mode of systems development. Millions of users depend on FLOSS
systems such as Linux and on the Internet, which is itself heavily dependent
on FLOSS tools, but as Scacchi (2002a, p. 1) notes, “little is known about how
people in these communities coordinate software development across different
settings, or about what software processes, work practices, and organizational
contexts are necessary to their success.” An EU/NSF workshop on priorities for
FLOSS research identified the need both for learning from open source modes
of organization and production that could perhaps be applied to other areas
and for a concerted effort on open source in itself, for itself (Ghosh 2002). But to
be able to learn from teams that are working well, we need to have a definition
of working well.

In the following sections of the chapter, we will first discuss several
measures of project effectiveness, and then the procedure we used to obtain
data with which to operationalize these measures, followed by the details of
the analysis approach. We then present the results of this analysis and discuss
the implications of these results. We then illustrate how these measures can be
used to compare projects as part of a research study. We conclude with some
suggestions for future research.

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