Why is open source so fast?

Why is open source so fast?

Summary: While most projects move at the pace of the slowest team member, open source projects proceed at the pace of the fastest one and that, when more people are added, things move even faster.

TOPICS: Open Source

UC Davis, best-known perhaps for its excellent veterinary program (go Aggies) has gotten a $750,000 grant to tackle one of computing's great mysteries -- why does open source development go so fast?

Premkumar Devanbu is heading up the team, and told reporters that while most projects move at the pace of the slowest team member, open source projects proceed at the pace of the fastest one and that, when more people are added, things move even faster.

The team will include professors of engineering and management as well as the computer science department, the school says.

Devanbu thinks the organizational structure of projects like Apache, Python and PostgreSQL can offer clues others can use. So they will go through message boards, bug reports and e-mail discussions and try to find common threads that can be woven into generalizations.

What are they likely to find? If I were to guess, a different leadership style based on the old maxim "there is no end to what a man can do if he doesn't care who gets the credit."

Or they could find that there is something in the organizational structure. Usually such projects are organized around a few key "committers" with the bulk of the code farmed-out to the community.

Who knows? What do you think they will find?

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Internalized

    I would have to say that open projects move faster because those who work on it choose to. We all would put 110% into what we do if we love what we're are doing. Even money doesn't equate to the amount of effort someone will put out incomparason to the effort they put out, because they choose to.
    • As a developer I agree....

      Give me something that nurtures my need for learning and expanding. Give me something fun to program and I'll have it out to you ASAP.

      You give me something monotonous and it takes me longer because the interest just isn't there.

      This is why open source products are faster in development time. The people who do it, truly enjoy what they are programming vs getting a paycheck to program.
      • Another advantage.

        You found your work fun, challenging and educational. Glad you enjoyed it.

        Your achievement is the 7th to be completed of the 12 necessary before product issuance. The 12 were selected because they have proven to increase sales potential.

        Even after the 12 are finished and debugging complete, the product may not be issued for 6 months to 1 year because of the plan to release related software, which has been delayed.

        You will have other fun, challenging, and educational projects. But please do not expect the results of your work to be made available to the public for some time.
        Anton Philidor
  • More People is Slower not Faster

    If expanding a project team made a project go faster, Microsoft Vista would be out by now.

    No code development isn't like that. The likely explanation are the tools used for open source delopment. Eclipes in particular, and standards that all the developers follow in the open source community that are not necessarily followed in a poprietary community.

    In addition, the reinvent the wheel, and not-invented-here attitudes common in many projects are simply not supported. If you have a need you are expected to find the solution with a web search and integrate that code, rather than write it your self. There is also the fact that working with source code is easier than patching binarys. Intel became a large open source contributor so that it could address a real security flaw in X86 hardware that has yet to be addressed in Microsoft operating system products but through open source has been addressed in other operating system products.
    • The IBM precedent

      What you describe has been the case for over 40 years. It was first discovered when IBM was developing the IBM 360.

      For more on all this, and its cost in human terms, might I suggest Tom Watson Jr.'s memoir, "Father Son & Co." (http://www.amazon.com/Father-Son-Co-Life-Beyond/dp/0553380834/sr=8-1/qid=1159376787/ref=nosimacluecom)

      The idea that this might no longer be the case is a huge, huge story. And the purpose of the study is to get inside this phenomenon.

      It may be found, of course, that the phenomenon does not exist, and if that is the case, I fully expect the UC Davis team to acknowledge this.
  • Listen to the open source FUD's

    Open Source projects move at the pace of the fastest member

    The more members the faster the development

    What next ? Pigs can fly.
  • Complete fallacy

    If open source development is so fast then why:

    a: is linux still far behind Windows?

    b: are people like Eric Raymond predicting that if open source doesn't do something now then linux will be locked off the desktop for the next 30 years?

    • Only your statement is a fallacy

      a: What about Windows is "far" ahead of Linux? Windows' market share is certainly much greater than Linux's, however that is largely due to hesitation to change from one system to another. A case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Over the past few years open source software has made giant gains in catching up to the productivity features of commercial software. One point I must acknowledge is that open source is not ahead of commercial software, and if it truly were developed faster then is should surpass commercial software entirely. I think that open source follows a punctuated equilibrium - long periods of relative inactivity followed by huge gains over a very short period.

      b: various peoples have always made conjectures of the inevitable decline of open source. Thus far none have panned out. I believe this is due to the fact that no one really understands the mechanisms that drive open source - emphasizing the importance of the study that this article is talking about.
      • You think? (NT)

        "I think that open source follows a punctuated equilibrium - long periods of relative inactivity followed by huge gains over a very short period."

        DotNetNuke. One of my personal favourite open source products.

        Constantly being updated.
  • Why is open source so fast?

    Because the slower projects die unseen?

    And for the projects completed more quickly,

    Because the people doing most of the work are already experts?

    They would, of course, work at the same pace on their commercial projects and probably do.

    The commercial products may take longerbecause they have to fulfill requirements of a software and a marketing plan.

    Those help companies survive.

    The pigs building their houses of straw and wood probably required less time than the pig building with brick.
    Anton Philidor
    • You're obviously not a developer... (NT)

      • Maybe it's the environment

        The issue of team sizes is mute. What about the flexible enironment of the freelancer versus the structured environments of corporate offices?

        Sure, much has been done to create 'funky' environments, but nothing beats a 3 day programming binge from the comfort of one's own home/office/studio. It is indusive to creativity, be it for artists, writers, or programmers.
        • What it might be

          I think a lot of the answer may have to do with the structure of open source projects, which I hinted at.

          What you see is broad authority put in a few hands, with small authorities put into many, many, many hands.

          This can't be replicated in the closed-source world, where all hands must be paid.
  • Divorced from Slow Budgetary Authorization Process

    In most ( big ) closed source houses the equivalent level of developer is not authorized ( given immediate access to sufficient funds ) to initiate such a project. The director of development will say that such and such a feature|program has not been requested by the customer and the initiative dies on the vine. Open source gains the advantage of building a prototype which ignites the potential customer base via buzz -- the members of which didn't know that they wanted such a thingie -- but "now that I see what you are talking about, man, do I want one."

    Also, closed source programmers drive more -- open sourcers use the commuting time to code ;-)
  • Open Source Faster? At What Exactly?

    Open source seems a bit faster at fixing point specific problems that require a single change. Open soure software has never seemed faster at developing large scale applications where high level design and architecture come into play.