Book Review: Understanding Open Source Software Development

The good people over at Addison-Wesley sent us this book, “Understanding Open Source Software Development” written by Joseph Feller & Brian Fitzgerald. It is an analysis of the history of the open source, its goals, where it is now and where it is expected to be in the near future. The ultimate goal and target of the book, apart from the knowledge feed about open source in general, seems to be the effort to convince project managers why they should adopt Open Source. Does the book succeed? Read on.The book was published in February 2002 and it is about 200 pages. It is a light reading, not too technical, and certainly pretty well structured overall. Most people, even people who do not know much about computing, will be able to easily follow the book and its focus.

The first 1/3 of the book is all about the history of computing, explaining what source code is, explaining the OSS compatible licenses and what it takes to have your license compatible with OSS etc. At the end of chapter 3, I found the first problem. The book mentions seven companies where all their main products are open source. It is funny, but only two of these companies are today still in business or still in the open source or Linux business. The rest are long dead, or they have changed their focus away from open source or Linux (CoSource or VA-Linux, anyone?).

The book goes on by analyzing which software and under which licensing terms can be called “open sourced” or OSI-approved. Later, it gives some hints as to how open source projects get created, developed, debugged and in general gives an overview of the lifecycle of the project. Further in the book you will also read about “why open source? What are the motivations”, explaining a number of social-political and philosophical reasons as to why someone would choose to open their project. The book does not forget to also mention the problems arising from OSI, OSS and GNU leaders, arguing between themselves as to which model and ideology is the “correct” one. The book seems to try to be pretty neutral and it also tries to paint RMS favorably overall. I have to say that I liked their effort to “unify” all these ideologies, for the sake of the book.

The book goes on and on about ideology, and it gives some bad and outdated examples of (failed now) companies that have adopted open source some years ago. The biggest problem with the book is that it is an ideology book. It will try to convince project managers if they should adopt the open source model based on lots of blah-blah and ideology discussion. The book completely fails in the numbers though. It does not include any hard numbers as to how much money open source-friendly companies have made before and after their decisions to adopt the OSS development model. A company will never change its business and/or development model without being presented with hard facts and statistical numbers of growth. In fact, the book does not suggest any OSS business model for companies to adopt. The authors seem to feel more secure by writing about the history of computers, or how righteous OSS development on Apache or Emacs is, but they don’t get down dirty when it comes to business.

The book is certainly an introduction to OSS, a starting point. But professionals should make their own research or read additional publications on the subject, if they are thinking of adopting the OSS development model. For users or open source friends, this may be an interesting read, but there is probably nothing that they already didn’t know about.

Overall: 7/10

Buy “Understanding Open Source Software Development
at for less


  1. 2002-04-30 6:11 pm
  2. 2002-04-30 11:57 pm
  3. 2002-05-01 12:03 am
  4. 2002-05-01 5:00 am
  5. 2002-05-01 5:00 am
  6. 2002-05-01 10:51 am
  7. 2002-05-01 11:44 am