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Article by Mohan Babu


Managing open source projects

There continues to be a lot of hype and mysticism around open source, both in the technical and business world. Those entrepreneurs and technologists who wish to be ahead of the curve will have to catch up with the trends, writes MOHAN BABU

Regular readers of this column are probably acquainted with the fact that my interests in the field of technology are diverse and eclectic, and so are the topics I pick for this column. Thanks to the editor of Express Computer, I get a clean slate every week and sit and gather thoughts on what I think are topical issues; sometimes I delve deeper into a topic in which case I write a series of columns. The open source movement is a topic close to my heart, something I have dwelt on more than a few occasions in the past. On mentioning ‘Open Source’ the image of a David versus Goliath comes to mind of most people, especially given the rivalry between Linux and Microsoft. I, like a few analysts, like to take a more holistic view of the open source movement since the real drivers behind widespread usage are corporate leaders, not just renegade tech staff at IT shops.

I was intrigued by the title of a book Managing Open Source Projects in our local library that I happened to pick up a few weeks ago. As I began skimming through the chapters, I was captivated by the breath of topics covered by Jan Sandred, the author. Though the title of the book is a misnomer—it would have been better to have titled it ‘All you wanted to know about Open Source’—it is definitely worth reading, especially if you happen to be associated with an open source project. The book begins with an ‘Open Source Primer,’ basically an introduction to open source; and the first few chapters continue this theme by giving a background on the development of Unix, tools on the Internet and an introduction to the philosophy behind the open source movement. The chapters on the Internet economy and business terms dwell on open source licensing legal and commercial issues. The section business terms also talks a bit about the dichotomy between the diverging commercial interests and the drive of volunteers.

I was looking forward to gaining insight into specifics of open source management in the chapters on ‘Managing Virtual teams’ and ‘managing distributed open source projects.’

However, I realised that there weren’t any unambiguous takeaways since the chapters dealt more on regular team dynamics, networking of organizations, etc, something that is already taking hold of our work lives with or without the advent of open source.

One explanation for this could be that though developers have been using open source tools and technologies in projects for a while, selling services bundling open source development is still at a nascent stage.

Having read this far, the reader is probably wondering who the real audience of this book is. Though the title indicates that it is about managing open source projects, would recommend it more as a primer on what open source software really is. It would definitely be worth the effort to glance over the book, especially if you happen to be a business leader or manager tasked with scanning the horizon for trends in open source movement.

There continues to be a lot of hype and mysticism around open source, both in the technical and business world, and this book certainly attempts to clear up some of the fundamentals. Along with technical journals, the mainstream business media, including Wall Street Journal, Business Week, et al, have been regularly running stories on the open source movement. Those entrepreneurs and technologists who wish to be ahead of the curve will do well to catch up with the trends shaping up.

On an opportunity front, one thought that came to mind as I was reading the chapter on managing distributed open source projects was the need for software service companies to grab the opportunity to consult with clients considering the open source option. Most software service companies are yet to jump onto the open source bandwagon in a big way. By this I do not mean to imply that service companies are not at all implementing open source projects; what I mean to imply is that they are not pushing it as an independent offering to their clients proactively. Organisations and entrepreneurs who are able to guide clients through the SWOT—Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat— analysis and help them prepare a roadmap to embark on an open source movement are going to be in demand. When this happens, the book on Managing Open Source Projects will have to be rewritten.

(Book reference: Managing Open Source Projects: A Wiley Tech Brief by Jan Sandred)





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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