lca2008 — release management in free software projects minitalk

Final mini-conf talk of Tuesday for me was tbm’s “Release Management in Large Free Software Projects”. The most interesting part of this talk for me was seeing all the parallels between shipping free software and shipping proprietary software.

It turns out that while free software development is radically different from proprietary software development, trying to ship the end result is remarkably similar, due to the foibles of human nature.

In the end, what large free software projects strive for is… wait for it… yes! predictability! woo! Hey, that’s basically what proprietary software products try to provide too. So fundamentally, the problem space is equivalent.

tbm’s research showed that many large free software projects have settled on time-based releases to try and achieve predictability, and then gave a bunch of examples. Again, I won’t repeat his talk here; go to his website to read tbm’s entire thesis.

The interesting implication for me is that management at proprietary software companies shouldn’t despair about the growing momentum in free software development. Rather, they should view it as an opportunity — management at top-notch software companies know how to ship software, so they ought to be thinking of ways to marry their management expertise while leveraging the benefits of open source development models.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere, where a strong management team can make money by shipping open source software to interested buyers with some level of predictability and responsibility. And yes, you’re reading me correctly if you think that I’m implying that this management team startup idea is marketing both to developers (“hey, let us manage your project and sell it to customers!”) and buyers (“hey, let us sell you this excellent piece of software!”).

Food for thought, anyhow.