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Opinion: Convergence advances open-source efforts

Posted: 21 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:open-source software? intellectual property? industry convergence?

The debate between closed and open software development advocates have been boiling in the electronics and high-tech industries for decades.

Closed-system players have made everyday software relatively inexpensive and generally easy to use. But a closed approach can slow or even halt innovation.

Meanwhile, open architectures bring together lots of innovative people, unfettered by proprietary code and application programming interfaces, and let them innovate and develop. But much of the work is completed by hobbyists and after-hours workers. Too often the result has failed to achieve enterprise grade.

New paradigm
Although there are exceptions to this characterization, advocates for open development have been waiting for the right convergence of trends and capabilities that would tip the balance toward many of its obvious advantages: better economics, increased innovation and more-agile business models.

That convergence is happening now, making the time ripe for open-systems development to proliferate and succeed like never before. Feeding this trend are the growing complexity of consumer electronics products; the pressure on development and rollout cycle times; rising consumer expectations; and changing business models.

To deliver products and services to market faster, software and high-tech industries are increasingly embracing a new paradigm of collaboration, often referred to as "open innovation" and "collective invention." By harnessing the power of multiple players, companies can compete against dominant rivals operating on closed-system innovation, tapping into more sources and gaining the ability to achieve development scale more rapidly.

In an open environment, companies can collaborate on a common development platform, but then compete on the innovative nature of the products. By sharing the work using an open infrastructure, companies have the ability to get products to market faster and at reduced risk.

By looking at how the problems of open-source software have traditionally been addressed, we can get an understanding of how to structure a project with a higher probability of success.

Quality check
A Department of Defense study found that the quality of open-source software varies depending on the project. However, the research discovered that the most popular projects, such as Linux and Apache, had quality comparable to the best closed-source software.

Quality depends on the size of the community involved in the project. The larger the community, the more people available to report and fix bugs. An OEM that sells products based on an open-source platform can help in this regard by dedicating resources to bug fixing and quality control. This would immediately improve the quality, increase the confidence of users and developers, and start a cycle of increasing popularity and improving quality.

In open-source programs, companies have been skeptical about disclosing their key intellectual property despite realizing the overall merit of such programs. This situation is being addressed by collaborating and building successful alliances. In these coordinated alliance frameworks, members feel free to contribute pieces of intellectual property. The frameworks also ensure rewards and recognition for these contributions based on the value added, making open-source programs a viable engine for innovation.

To maximize productivity, the development community needs an elaborate tool chain. Eclipse is an open-source community focused on building an extensible development platform and application framework for architecting, deploying and managing software across the entire software life cycle. Eclipse is an excellent example of how one open-source community has come to help another.

Controlled changes to design and architecture focus on how to ensure the changes will follow norms and conform to a standard. Most open-source communities have a core group of architects who monitor the proposed changes and accept or reject them to ensure that issuessuch as scalability, modularity and structured designare addressed.

Ultimately, the open-source approach makes sense because it provides long-term stability and sound project design without slowing or preventing innovation, a key problem of closed-source systems. Open development delivers the answer for most electronics and high-tech companies aspiring to achieve high performance.

- Abhijit Kabra
EE Times

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