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Java Developer : Article

Dealing with Open Source Software

Part Two

Yakov: How can I assess which open source tool is the best in a given category, e.g., Java Web frameworks?

Bernard: It's easy to ask around or attend a local user group meeting and pick attendees' brains. You can get a good sense of the functionality, liveliness, and hospitality of the community by monitoring the mailing lists/forums. These methods can give you a good informal feel for the various products.

If you want a more formal assessment, you can use the Open Source Maturity Model (OSMM) developed by my company. It's a structured assessment methodology for open source products to determine their maturity and usefulness for organizations. The OSMM is open source, and more can be learned at www.navicasoft.com/OSMM.

Yakov: As everyone else, open source developers should hate writing documentation. Besides, they don't have any motivation to write quality manuals. Am I supposed to be a hacker to learn the open source products?

Bernard: The quality and availability of documentation for a given open source product tends to improve in lockstep with its overall maturity. Immature products typically have incomplete and/or poorly written documentation, while more mature products benefit from a larger user community, some of whom write and contribute documentation. Of course, the very best established open source products have user communities large enough to attract the attention of commercial publishers. It's often the case that you need to be very technically sophisticated to use immature open source products due to the paucity of quality documentation.

Yakov: The Internet is also free, but there are plenty of firms that offer paid services such as Internet-related training and support. Since the open source products become widely used, most likely a new breed of startups will appear to offer training and support of popular open source tools.

Bernard: Just as the quality and availability of documentation improves as the maturity of an open source product improves, so to does the availability of product-oriented services. Both documentation and services are assessed as part of the OSMM; in addition, support, training, and product integration go into the OSMM assessment process. All are vital for mainstream use of an open source product.

Yakov: I remember that during the dot-com era, small companies were raising money from investors by showing them a business plan and promising a bright future. Don't you feel that we can expect a similar trend in the open source arena? If a company has created a piece of a free software and can show that it's been downloaded several thousand times, they can raise capital by promising sales of support and training in the future.

Bernard: I work a lot with open source startups, and it's true that there's a lot of venture activity in open source today. Number of downloads is one metric investors look at as part of their company assessment, but they also evaluate the founder(s), the importance of the software in terms of the typical use scenarios, as well as the potential business model of the company.

One advantage from the user perspective is that open source breaks the linkage between product and company. If the product is useful but the company is unsuccessful, open source means that the user community will still have access to the product source base and can continue using the product even if the company goes bust. This is very different from the dot-com days, when companies would shut down and leave their users in the lurch.

Yakov: I'm the only person here who will make all decisions, deal with the vendors, and develop the applications for my business. Do you see it as an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to implementation of the open source products?

Bernard: Well, you'll be in control of the all the decisions, but you'll carry a lot of responsibility. Because you're on your own, you should focus on open source products with large and active communities so that you'll have resources to call upon when you face challenges.

Yakov: Bernard, thank you for this improvised open source training! From now on, if I'll get anything at no cost, I'll call it an open source deal. I wish my suppliers could offer me some open source gasoline...

Bernard: Good luck!

•  •  • 

I really appreciate all your comments to my previous gas station column posted online. Please share your thoughts on the use of the open source software in a small business via the Feedback function.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

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Most Recent Comments
danny 12/14/05 01:18:11 AM EST

A worthwhile read - thanks.

Two corrections:
1) OSMM link is broken
2) "...Bernard: Just as the quality and availability of documentation improves as the maturity of an open source product improves, so to" <= 'to' should be 'too'

Danny

Andrei Ivantsov 09/27/05 07:27:20 AM EDT

The correct link to OSMM @ navicasoft.com is http://www.navicasoft.com/pages/osmm.htm