A Software Engineering approach to Libre Software

von Gregorio Robles

The challenge of libre1 software is not the one of a new competitor producing, under the same rules, software in a faster and cheaper way, and with higher quality. Libre software differs from "traditional" software in more fundamental aspects, beginning with philosophical reasons and motivations, followed by new economic and market guidelines and finishing with a different form of producing software. Software engineers cannot ignore this and for some years now the investigation of all these aspects has intensified. This article tries to introduce the reader into the most relevant technical aspects of libre software from the perspective of the development process (dubbed the Bazaar model; Raymond 1997). From a more quantitative point of view, several perspectives will be offered: the study of source code, of human resources and production costs. Finally, some of the proposals to continue advancing in the engineering research of libre software are presented.

1. Introduction

Libre software has won, without any doubt, a big importance lately. Although its philosophical principles (and first code) date back to the 1980s,2 it has not been until some ten years ago that, with the proliferation of Internet connections, it has shown itself as a sound development and distribution method - to the point that it is increasingly becoming a threat for the traditional software industry, the latter being based on a closed development model and a distribution method relying on collecting licensing fees.

The "revolution" in the technical and technological methods in some libre software projects - those whose development form has been named the Bazaar model - has drawn the interest of software engineers. They became increasingly curious, seeing how a completely different approach has spurred the production of high quality, and low cost, software in the course of the last years. Even though the most interesting elements for these researchers have been the technical ones, in the author's opinion, the philosophical aspects related to libre software cannot be left aside: concepts like community and ethics are of great importance. Interpreting and understanding the observations, and answering apparently technical-only questions, requires to take into account this particular philosophy of software development, as we will see later... (Auszug)

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Gregorio Robles ist Assistent und Doktorand an der Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. Der Schwerpunkt seiner Forschungsarbeit liegt auf der Untersuchung freier Softwareentwicklung aus softwaretechnischer Sicht mit besonderem Bezug auf quantitative Methoden. Er war beteiligt am Entwurf von Programmen zur Automatisierung der Analyse von Freier Software sowie der zu ihrer Herstellung verwendeten Softwarewerkzeuge. Gregorio Robles war an der vom IST-Programm der EU-Kommission finanzierten FLOSS-Studie beteiligt.

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