FLOSSSim: Understanding the Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) Development Process through Agent-Based Modeling

TitleFLOSSSim: Understanding the Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) Development Process through Agent-Based Modeling
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsRadtke, NP
Refereed DesignationDoes Not Apply
Secondary TitleArizona State University
Place PublishedArizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Type of WorkPhD Dissertation

Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) is the product of volunteers collaborating to build software in an open, public manner. The large number of FLOSS projects, combined with the data that is inherently archived with this online process, make studying this phenomenon attractive. Some FLOSS projects are very functional, well-known, and successful, such as Linux, the Apache Web Server, and Firefox. However, for every successful FLOSS project there are 100's of projects that are unsuccessful. These projects fail to attract sufficient interest from developers and users and become inactive or abandoned before useful functionality is achieved. The goal of this research is to better understand the open source development process and gain insight into why some FLOSS projects succeed while others fail.

This dissertation presents an agent-based model of the FLOSS development process. The model is built around the concept that projects must manage to attract contributions from a limited pool of participants in order to progress. In the model developer and user agents select from a landscape of competing FLOSS projects based on perceived utility. Via the selections that are made and subsequent contributions, some projects are propelled to success while others remain stagnant and inactive.

Findings from a diverse set of empirical studies of FLOSS projects are used to formulate the model, which is then calibrated on empirical data from multiple sources of public FLOSS data. The model is able to reproduce key characteristics observed in the FLOSS domain and is capable of making accurate predictions. The model is used to gain a better understanding of the FLOSS development process, including what it means for FLOSS projects to be successful and what conditions increase the probability of project success. It is shown that FLOSS is a producer-driven process, and project factors that are important for developers selecting projects are identified. In addition, it is shown that projects are sensitive to when core developers make contributions, and the exhibited bandwagon effects mean that some projects will be successful regardless of competing projects. Recommendations for improving software engineering in general based on the positive characteristics of FLOSS are also presented.

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