Software Development

Why Open Source Software?

I decided to look at something everyone thinks we know well, Open Source Software (OSS)  and see what I discover. The child in me said; “Do it”.

The Strange and Not-So-Strange I uncovered

No. This is not a high energy physics paper. This is a study on OSS performance.

Figure 1 A sample from the paper Motivation and Sorting in Open Source Software Innovation, Belanzon Schankerman November 2012

I scratch my head seeing the bizarre equation of performance as motivation in OSS, I wonder what these sigmas, alpha, beta  have to do with success. Looking at Wikipedia entry on Open Source Movement , we see formally OSS is 30 years old,  since it was formally “incorporated” , so to speak,  by Richard Stallman’s creation of the Free Software Foundation in 1983. This is venerable institution, beyond a media darling. I found this button from his web page:

He looks like a priest , an atheist priest who wants to impeach God. He never married, and apparently lives only by breathing, as his job at MIT has no salary. He says: I do free software. Open source is a different movement.

Dirk Riehle from SAP (SAP? Yes in his Stakeholder Perspectives  gives us his angle on why  Open Source Software (not Free Software)  is good for business:
  • [OSS] “increases profits through cost savings and reach more customers due to flexible pricing. This has upset existing ecosystems and shuffled structural relationships, resulting in the emergence of firms providing consulting services to open source projects.
  • “Developers face new career prospects and paths, since their formal position in an open source project, in addition to their experience and capabilities, determines their value to an employer. Developers strive to become committers to high-profile open source projects to further their careers, for more recognition, independence, and job security.”
Figure 2: Dirk Riehle showing why an OSS must make money in order to reach a wider user base

Ye and Kishida in their paper Toward an Understanding of the Motivation of Open Source Software Developers, show the solar system of an OSS:

Every developer wants to move into center, where the power and visibility and potential employment are maximized.

It is  the desire to learn without being taught formally, says Ye and Kishida study,  that motivates people. They even have a fancy name for it, LPP

Learning is one of the  motivations that attracts many users to become active  contributors and drive them to contribute more to OSS systems, we need to understand how learning takes place in communities of practice by introducing the theory of  Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) developed by Lave and Wenger

LPP says learners experience learning not as a result of  being taught, but through direct engagement in the social, cultural, and technical practice of the community.

The conclusion of Ye and Kishida study: OSS is a very complicated phenomenon that is related to technology, human behaviors, economics, culture, and society. This is obvious.

My thoughts on Open Source Software

For many years , OSS communities have written software meant to please each other in the community. Developers wrote to impress other developers. There was NO concern of who was going to use the software, outside from the people in the group, their girl friends, their wives and their friends. Most Free Software projects fail . The reasons we read on are lack of coding skills, project management skills, in essence technical skills. No. The true reason is  this: No one so far in a true, blue-blood hardline open source project considers UX, aka User Experience. The UX is not Usability, which is a bunch of metrics for making navigation of an UI easy.

UX is how users feel about the software being produced. When someone says: “I hate Windows”,  or “I love Mac” or “I don’t want command line” this is user experience. In all those OSS motivational scholarly papers, no one ever mentions an UX contributor being motivated to participate. Nada. Zero. Zilch.  An open source software must be wanted  by outside users to survive and thrive.

Creating Habit and Desire

Not paying money is not a reason , per se,  to use a piece of OSS software. Here is the  Fogg Behavior Model, which tells us why

The user behavior is a function of motivation, ability and a trigger. This model works not only with software, but with decisions we take as humans. I would let BJ Fogg to explain it himself using Facebook as an example. Based on this strategy, one can devise a strategy to get even Mr. Stallman join Facebook, given the right trigger

Bottom Line

Open Source Software is beneficial. Not only it can make money, it helps candidates to Nobel prize, to actually win a Nobel Prize.  Al Gore sits in Apple board, something Richard Stallman never managed to do. Maybe Richard by did not want it, although at the age 60 people mellow a bit. But most of us, we do want to do goodness. There is no way to accomplish our mission and  keping the freedom, if we starve to death, if we don’t have children,  if we don’t get funding for  our projects and if no one uses what we invented and created ex-nihilo. Life is short. Just stop what you do now, and meditate for a minute. You see? Life is very short.

Reference: Why Open Source Software? from our JCG partner Miha Ahronovitz at the The memories of a Product Manager blog.

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