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Erschienen in: Empirical Software Engineering 4/2011

01.08.2011

The search for a research method for studying OSS process innovation

verfasst von: Lutz Prechelt, Christopher Oezbek

Erschienen in: Empirical Software Engineering | Ausgabe 4/2011

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Abstract

Medium-sized, open-participation Open Source Software (OSS) projects do not usually perform explicit software process improvement on any routine basis. It would be useful to understand how to get such a project to accept a process improvement proposal and hence to perform process innovation. We want to determine an effective and feasible qualitative research method for studying the above question. We present (narratively) a case study of how we worked towards and eventually found such a research method. The case involves four attempts at collecting suitable data about innovation episodes (direct participation (twice), polling developers for episodes, manually finding episodes in mailing list archives) and the adaptation of the Grounded Theory data analysis methodology. Direct participation allows gathering rather rich data, but does not allow for observing a sufficiently large number of innovation episodes. Polling developers for episodes did not prove to be useful. Using mailing list archives to find data to be analyzed is both feasible and effective. We also describe how the data thus found can be analyzed based on the Grounded Theory Method with suitable adjustments. By-and-large, our findings ought to apply to studying various phenomena in OSS development processes that are similarly heavyweight and infrequent. However, specific details may block this possibility and we cannot predict which details that might be. The amount of effort involved in direct participation approaches to qualitative research can easily be underestimated. Also, survey approaches are not well-suited for many process issues in OSS, because too few developers are sufficiently process-conscious. An approach based on passive observation is a viable alternative in the OSS context due to the availability of large amounts of fairly complete archival data.
Fußnoten
1
This is opposed to the few large high-profile projects such as Apache, Linux, OpenOffice, or Mozilla, many of which are carried to a large degree by a formal organization (O’Mahony 2005).
 
4
Bergquist and Ljungberg (2001) call such behavior towards OSS projects a code gift and consider it an important means for gaining influence.
 
6
In particular user lists of tools and APIs commonly used for Open Source development such as http://​lists.​boost.​org/​mailman/​listinfo.​cgi/​boost (a C+ + library for common application development tasks), http://​lists.​gnu.​org/​mailman/​listinfo/​autoconf (a package for generating platform-specific scripts to be used in the build-process of applications), http://​subversion.​tigris.​org/​ds/​viewForumSummary​.​do?​dsForumId=​1065 (a software for source code version management), http://​lists.​libsdl.​org/​listinfo.​cgi/​sdl-libsdl.​org (a multimedia library for accessing input and graphics devices), and http://​lists.​mozilla.​org/​listinfo/​support-bugzilla (a software for bug-tracking).
 
7
We also received a small number of critical comments by email, for instance “1) This is lame. 2) You get paid for this and we don’t”.
 
8
The Debian project collects many packages of OSS software, performs package management (in particular dependency modeling) on them, and develops a package management software. Krafft (2009, p.xiii) calls Debian “arguably the largest OSS project with over 1000 developers”.
 
10
For instance, the threads titled “Changes to U-Boot Development Process” and “Making it Easier to Contribute to Bugzilla (2007 Edition)” turned out to represent innovation episodes, while “Talking about regressions...” and “Quietly promoting ArgoUML” did not.
 
11
In order to avoid distorting the observations, it is important that exactly appropriate concepts be used. This is easiest to achieve when new concepts are being invented specifically for this analysis. When previously existing concepts are used, they have to be “re-invented”.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
The search for a research method for studying OSS process innovation
verfasst von
Lutz Prechelt
Christopher Oezbek
Publikationsdatum
01.08.2011
Verlag
Springer US
Erschienen in
Empirical Software Engineering / Ausgabe 4/2011
Print ISSN: 1382-3256
Elektronische ISSN: 1573-7616
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10664-011-9160-1

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