Our (2009) Open Source Research Agenda

The overarching goal of our group’s research is to comprehensively define “the next big” software development method. To that end, we will work to unify agile software development methods with open source software development. Agile methods can cope with changing requirements but don’t scale up well. Open source methods can cope with changing requirements and also scale up well. However, open source remains poorly understood as a development method and practices vary significantly from project to project. Agile methods are increasingly being adopted in the enterprise, but it is open source methods that innovate intra- and inter-company collaboration as well as vendor-customer relationships. Given prior significant research on agile methods, the focus of our group’s work will be on understanding open source methods and practices in both an engineering and a business context.

  1. Engineering practices. What makes an open source project succeed? What are best practices of distributed configuration management? How to prioritize feature requests in a community setting? Our engineering practices research will address these and related questions, seeking to develop a comprehensive and validated toolbox of open source best practices. The primary research approach is to generate data-driven hypotheses of how open source practices work, to develop new tools based on the newly defined practices, to experiment with these practices using a software forge, and to validate the refined practices definition. In a typical dissertation, the initially analytical hypothesis generation will be followed-up on by substantial open source software development. Examples of such publications are [1], [2], [3], [4].
  2. Single-vendor open source. As the MySQL exit illustrates, open source can be a highly effective and disruptive business strategy, even in a market as established and as conservative as relational databases. Self-sustaining open source communities can help a vendor build a superior product faster and cheaper; in turn the community receives a free-to-use open source project. Beyond engineering practices, open source vendors engage in various business practices to go to market with the open source product. We will investigate and define these business practices and the underlying open source strategies. For this research, we are likely to collaborate with industry partners as well as economics and information systems departments. An example publication is [5].
  3. Community open source. In community(-owned) open source projects, software vendors and individual developers come together alike, sometimes for altruistic reasons, sometimes driven by an indirect profit motive. How to develop software if there is no superior to tell you how it is? How much money and labor to invest into community projects like the Eclipse platform? What’s the return on investment for a strategic non-profit member? The answers to these questions mesh engineering with business practices research. They will inform public policy making as the common good created through community open source may need public seed funding. We will approach these questions in collaboration with the respective foundations, their members, and economics researchers. An example publication is [6].

In most cases, as part of a Ph.D. thesis’ validation, software development is required. Thus, some work, certainly on engineering practices research, will entail substantial software engineering. This is not only supported but desired by the University, which would like to see research not only to be published in the best conferences and journals, but also to be of significant industrial relevance. The professorship is set up to make it easy to turn dissertation work into (open source) startups, and it will be actively supporting this. Application domains of immediate interest to the group are software development tools, business applications in the cloud, and social software, in particular wikis. We are also interested in mobile devices, multimedia, and medical technology.

If you are interested in these topics and would like to perform Ph.D. level work, please contact Prof. Riehle.


[1] Dirk Riehle, John Ellenberger, Tamir Menahem, Boris Mikhailovski, Yuri Natchetoi, Barak Naveh, Thomas Odenwald. “Open Collaboration within Corporations Using Software Forges.” IEEE Software, vol. 26, no. 2 (March/April 2009). Page 52-58.

[2] Amit Deshpande, Dirk Riehle. “The Total Growth of Open Source.” In Proceedings of the Fourth Conference on Open Source Systems (OSS 2008). Springer Verlag, 2008. Page 197-209.

[3] Philipp Hofmann, Dirk Riehle. “Estimating Commit Sizes Efficiently.” In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Open Source Systems (OSS 2009). Springer Verlag, 2009. Page 105-115.

[4] Oliver Arafat, Dirk Riehle. “The Commit Size Distribution of Open Source Software.” In Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaiian International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 42). IEEE Press, 2009. Page 1-8.

[5] Dirk Riehle. “The Commercial Open Source Business Model.” In Proceedings of the 15th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2009). AIS Electronic Library, 2009. Paper 104.

[6] Dirk Riehle. “The Economic Motivation of Open Source: Stakeholder Perspectives.” IEEE Computer, vol. 40, no. 4 (April 2007). Page 25-32.