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Open Source Code Maintainability Analyzed 264

Posted by Zonk
from the i-read-about-this-in-college dept.
gManZboy writes "Four computer scientists have done a formal analysis of five Open Source software projects to determine how being "Open Source" contributes to or inhibits source code maintainability. While they admit further research is needed, they conclude that open source is no magic bullet on this particular issue, and argue that Open Source software development should strive for even greater code maintainability." From the article: "The disadvantages of OSS development include absence of complete documentation or technical support. Moreover, there is strong evidence that projects with clear and widely accepted specifications, such as operating systems and system applications, are well suited for the OSS development model. However, it is still questionable whether systems like ERP could be developed successfully as OSS projects. "
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Open Source Code Maintainability Analyzed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:31PM (#11682005)
    If they excluded PERL.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:31PM (#11682013)
    by Ioannis Samoladas, Ioannis Stamelos, Lefteris Angelis, Apostolos Oikonomou ...it was all Greek to me.
  • bah! (Score:3, Funny)

    by eggoeater (704775) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:32PM (#11682020) Journal
    I just keep my code on one 3 1/2 inch floppy.
    Haven't had a problem yet....
    • Re:bah! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:48PM (#11682253)
      ...3 1/2 inch floppy

      Nothing to be ashamed of, that's a pretty average size.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      From TFA: "Four computer scientists ... argue that Open Source software development should..."

      I stopped reading at that point.

      If they think they're so smart, those 4 guys are welcome to fork whatever project they want and do it themselves.

  • by StateOfTheUnion (762194) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:32PM (#11682026) Homepage
    Was this really a surprise? Did anyone think that open osurce software is as a general rule well documented or documented as well as many commercial projects that have project management (for better or worse) and technical writers on staff to do internal as well as external documentation?
    • by arkanes (521690) <arkanes@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:55PM (#11682361) Homepage
      In my experience, OSS is no more or less well documented than commercial, in house code. Some OSS projects have great docs. Most don't. Most in house software is poorly documented. The number of companies that actually have technical writers on staff for internal software is very, very small. Certainly I've never worked for one.

      In fact, I'd go so far as to extend this to software in general. Even when the comments can really matter, like API docs for libraries, the documentation sucks as often as not. I see no advantage to OSS here, but I don't see a disadvantage either.

      • by Feztaa (633745) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:14PM (#11682631) Homepage
        I'll probably get flamed for this, but at least with OSS, if there's no documentation, you can at least read the code to see what it does. I know, that's no substitute for proper documentation, but with closed source, if there's no documentation, you're just fucked, plain and simple. In OSS, if there's no documentation, you can read the code.
        • This can never be stressed enough. People generally respond to this with "I don't know how to read code", "I don't have time to read code", etc. but a large company will certainly have the resources to handle this, and will ultimately get better and faster support from said in-house resources than they ever would from a vendor.
        • ... but at least with OSS, if there's no documentation, you can at least read the code to see what it does

          ... In OSS, if there's no documentation, you can read the code.


          And if it not OSS, then either you have access to the code (in which case you can read it also), or you don't (in which case maintainability isn't even the issue, because there isn't any).

          Whether the source is open or closed has no (direct) bearing on how good the source and documentation are, for those allowed to see the source and doc
      • So, you are claiming that the sample of companies you've worked for represents a fair sample of all software companies? You have also looked, in depth, at the same number of open source projects and can claim that that number is representative of all open source projects?

        If you are going to use your own experience as justification for your point, you should at the least state exactly what that experience is. It would be nice if you could also compile some statistics on the total number of open and closed s
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:57PM (#11682394)
      O.k., perhaps its not a surprise, but in the end the community needs to do away with the 'more eyes make better software' myth in order to move forward. In that sense, it is good that 'professionals' are now pointing out that some of the software out there is actually quite bad and that it is _not_ generally acceptable to not maintain documentation and uphold good project hygiene.

      Here's a nice experiment for you:

      1. Select a random project, preferably one that's slightly buggy during ordinary use.
      2. Subscribe to project's mailing list.
      3. Politely inquire if the project has any kind of automated test suite.
      4. Observe stumped reaction.
      5. Kindly explain the absolute necessity of such a system in any non-trivial app.
      6. Go down in flames.

      That attitude needs to change.

      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:21PM (#11682731) Homepage
        Well, the importance of a test suite rises dramatically with the complexity of the project. The difficulty of making a test suite increases with the amount of hardware that you need to implement it. When I think of "big" open source projects that aren't very hardware dependant - for example, ITK (the Insight Toolkit), they tend to have nice test suites. Naturally, the little ones don't, but little projects of most things don't have test suites.

        I agree, though, that automated test suites are underused. Also, not enough programmers (OSS or otherwise) seem to understand the importance of refactoring.

        A message to coders: People, if your function is more than 10 lines long, you should start to consider splitting it. If it's more than 100 lines long, you're probably doing something wrong. If you have the same code written with slight modifications two or more different ways, you're probably doing something wrong. Use templates rather than repeating code if your language supports them. If you ever feel "this should probably be commented more", don't comment it - split it up into functions and let the functions be their own comments (if you have to, comment the functions as well). Use const as much as physically possible (in supporting languages). Use array objects that clean themselves up instead of arrays allocated on-the-fly whenever physically possible. If you find certain variables being used often together, group them into an object. If you find a set of functions operating on an object and only that object, make them member functions. Etc.

        Just doing basic refactoring can make code far more organized and readable.
        • > If it's more than 100 lines long, you're
          > probably doing something wrong.

          Quite right! Once that 100 line method is broken out into a class or two, you'll find two or three other places where you've got minor variations on the same code. Those variations (and their attending bugs) then get refactored away, the codebase shrinks, and good times result.

          Thanks for the great post!
          • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:58PM (#11683160) Journal
            If it's more than 100 lines long, you're probably doing something wrong.
            If a chunk of code can't fit on one page (two, max) it's too damn long. You're trying to do too much in one spot, and the goonies and golems will bit you in the ass.

            If it needs more comments than code, it's a sign its overly-complicated and you need to rethink what you're doing and how you're doing it. In other words, your algorithm sux the bag.

            If you can't write test cases for it because it's too tightly coupled to the rest of your code, you probably misunderstood the problem in the first place (or at least you're approaching it from the wrong direction)...

            All the comments and documentation in the world won't make spaghetti understandable or maintainable.

            • If it needs more comments than code, it's a sign its overly-complicated and you need to rethink what you're doing and how you're doing it. In other words, your algorithm sux the bag.

              Well, mostly, but I have on occasion documented something to within an inch of its life because the problem is quite complex, and doesn't particularly lend itself to being broken down further. e.g. I wrote some mesh silhouette code recently, that used a lot of small, smart objects to do its job, and was only a screen or two

        • Sorry, while I agree with the general thrust of this your 10 line rule seems overly pedantic and ultimately counterproductive.

          Often I have written largeish functions such that while they could be broken into smaller functions, at the time there would be no purpose in doing so except to enforce the "only short functions allowed" rule. In other words the small functions would only be called from a single point in the code. In situations like this recursively breaking a function into smaller functions adds fu
        • People, if your function is more than 10 lines long, you should start to consider splitting it. If it's more than 100 lines long, you're probably doing something wrong.

          So I've been told, sometimes by some of the biggest names in programming. Unfortunately, a firm belief among the industry doesn't make them right.

          Rather than debunking this one here, I'll simply refer you to Steve McConnell's excellent Code Complete. McConnell cites a large amount of hard data to show that longer routines can be at leas

      • 3. Politely inquire if the project has any kind of automated test suite.
        4. Observe stumped reaction.

        Thing is, you're also likely to get a stumped reaction if you made such an inquiry about a random proprietary project.

      • 7. Offer to put together said suite
      • Do this for most commercial apps. The fact is these things are rare. BTW they are more common on OSS because they are a standard part of make (make test).
    • From the conclusions:

      Using tools such as MI derived for measuring CSS quality, OSS code quality appears to be at least equal and sometimes better than the quality of CSS code implementing the same functionality.

      So, apparently, the authors think that OSS is as a general rule better than CSS from a maintainability point of view.
    • open osurce software - I like the sound of that, what's your philosophy? What kind of beard do I have to grow?
    • My experience is that OSS has far better documentation. With almost all conversation occuring on mailing lists that are archived you can find exactly what people were thinking when they made critical choices. I do legacy conversion work for a living and I'll tell you this is the #1 point of difficulty. Was a path choosen because:

      a) The alternatives didn't occur to the developer / team
      b) The tools or the language made this choice easier (sometimes tools or languages that are no longer in use and you ar
  • by bperkins (12056) * on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:33PM (#11682033) Homepage Journal
    GNU General Public License (GPL)
    Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD)

    are all defined in the article.

    But not ERP.

    Go figure.
    • GNU General Public License (GPL)
      Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD)


      are all defined in the article.

      But not ERP.

      Go figure.
      It seems like ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning [wikipedia.org].
      • by Bozdune (68800) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:08PM (#11682548)
        Right, and what the hell does "Enterprise Resource Planning" mean?

        It used to mean the combination of MRP ("Material Requirements Planning") + Accounting. Then along came PeopleSoft and kinda changed it to HR + Accounting. Then along came Siebel and everyone scurried to make it MRP + HR + accounting + CRM (not quite there yet, though). Then they noticed Kronos and they all scurried to make it MRP + HR + Accounting + CRM + Time & Attendance. And failed, because Time & Attendance is a big pain in the butt. Heh. So they partnered with Kronos instead.

        The march of "embrace and extend" continues. Next app up: Expense Reporting (say bye-bye to Concur, etc., that's an easy app). Already on deck: data warehousing (say bye-bye to Cognos, Business Objects, etc., say hello to SAP BW). Soon to come: business process automation (say bye-bye to Ariba, etc.)

        And so on, if you believe the pundits.

        "ERP" has become a meaningless acronym, an umbrella under which every business app known to man is rammed into the same stinking pile of multi-million dollar shit. At some point it will probably implode from its own weight, and we'll go right back to the "best of breed" interoperable software model.

        But it will be a while yet. I suspect in the meantime there will be some Open Source alternatives. I sure hope so.
  • At least... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BJZQ8 (644168) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:33PM (#11682040) Homepage Journal
    At least with Open Source Software you CAN maintain it if necessary. With closed source, there is no way to make any changes to old software...and much too often, the companies that make some of the obscure CAD stuff (my field, once) are out of business. At least having it open makes it possible to change something...even if you don't.
    • Re:At least... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pclminion (145572)
      At least with Open Source Software you CAN maintain it if necessary. With closed source, there is no way to make any changes to old software

      Sure you can. It's easy to forget, but there are people who are fluent in assembly language and can figure out a defunct, proprietary piece of software if necessary.

      I agree that it barely meets the definition of "maintainable," but it can be done with some effort. I've done it myself, while trying to find a problem in one of our distribution binaries -- the bug I w

      • Re:At least... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by micromoog (206608)
        It can be done.

        But it's usually illegal. The copyrights to that program are still owned by somebody somewhere, collecting dust and mold.

        • Re:At least... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:00PM (#11682441)
          I don't see how copyright applies in this case. I can take a book, mark it up, cut pages out and paste new content into it. It's my book. I would be in trouble if I wanted to then sell that book, but I'm not trying to. Why should a piece of software be different?
    • Re:At least... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:57PM (#11682392)
      As a software engineer, I do like to point out something to you. "At least with open source you CAN maintain it if necessary" is not true! Maintenance takes up a good 60+% of a software cycle. Doing maintenance requires good documentation, fixing a bug is a minor issue, especially when it's easy to track down. Understanding design decisions, understanding architecture so that you can extend the software is a big challenge.

      Without appropriate documentations, you end up doing what has been done all over again, studying the software to understand how it works, which can be taxing. Go look at somewhat complex OSS projects, try hacking gcc to spit out a different binary format without reading any documentation. Try understanding postgres without documentation. GUI applications like a CAD system are even harder to make sense out of. If you are actually talented enough, the sheer effort you will poor into understanding the system, you might as well spend it designing from the ground up.

      Most people are not hackers, If they were, why would they need source code? crackers don't need source code to add functionality to any system, it's a matter of patching the object code, having a section of the code jump to your own code and return. But it's ugly, having source code makes it a little bit prettier but not much.

      Documentation is the key! .segmond
    • Re:At least... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by charvolant (224858) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:06PM (#11682528) Homepage
      At least with Open Source Software you CAN maintain it if necessary.

      Sort of ... kind of ...

      There comes a point where, particularly without design documentation, the bar is raised so high that the effort involved in maintaining something is more than that involved in moving to a new product. There's a scaling problem here. What works with small, simple direct programs doesn't work with large, complex or indirect programs.

      And some OSS code is simply completely undocumented, not even a comment -- apart from the licence. Something I discovered wandering through the XFree86 XKB code.

      See http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_12/bezroukov/ index.html [firstmonday.org] for a discussion some of the weaknesses of the open source model when it comes to program comprehension.

  • Bleh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:35PM (#11682062)
    One need only peruse the source code of 5 randomly picked source forge projects to figure this one out.
    • Re:Bleh (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:53PM (#11682329)
      One need only peruse the source code of 5 randomly picked source forge projects to figure this one out.

      Yeah, but don't blame it on OSS. This is simply another embodiment of the long-tailed distribution of human stupidity. In any human endeavor there are a large number of people who are Unskilled and Unaware of it [phule.net]. These people will try their hand at whatever catches their attention, and the results usually range from mediocre to terrible.

      There's a lot of really bad fan fiction out there, too. And terrible amateur cartoons. And naive, uninformed political opinions.

      What we witness on SourceForge is merely a demonstration of the inability of most people to accomplish anything of any importance. Nothing specific to OSS.

  • by Augusto (12068) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:36PM (#11682077) Homepage
    And it's often not.

    Many of us have and are working in the "real world" out there, and I've been less than impressed with most documentation on large products.

    Not to mention design documents, which end up being dead documents that are outdated as soon as the first line of code is written. To many corporations, there's no big incentive to spend so much money on these types of activities when you can have people just churning out code and finishing the darned product in the end.

    I'm not saying commericial development is any worse, but I can't say it's any better for sure either.
    • From page #2, almost at the end:
      1. Using tools such as MI derived for measuring CSS quality, OSS code quality appears to be at least equal and sometimes better than the quality of CSS code implementing the same functionality.
      The article is rather thickly written so it's difficult to find, I had to read through it twice.

      But, OSS wins.
    • > design documents, which end up being
      > dead documents that are outdated as soon
      > as the first line of code is written.

      So true. Or only one page will be kept up to date - the database schema diagram, because it can be automatically generated from the production database schema.

      Meanwhile, new hires are referred to these documents with mumbles of "this is the design documentation, read this and you'll know everything". This statement is usually accompanied with a cynical smile and a shrug, indicating to the new hire the uselessness of the ritual. Ack.
  • GUI (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaalamaadan (639250)
    Not to mention interface design. Ad hoc designs could be enormously good - like Winamp - or miserable - any of GIMP, the clipboard in X, the interface specifications for internationalization.

    In spite of drives towards a uniform consistent design, the OSS commmunity still has a long way to go in terms of interface design, which is the defining factor in acceptance of packages like ERP. In "The Art of Computer Programming", Knuth makes note that programmers hate I/O programming.

    After nearly 35 y

    • Re:GUI (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Phleg (523632) <<stephen> <at> <touset.org>> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:08PM (#11682556)

      You're actually trying to claim that Winamp's design is good?

      Winamp and other players which try to emulate the look and feel of a "new wave" stereo do nothing but piss me off. Stereo systems have the bad interfaces they do because of an inherent lack of physical space; something that's still a concern with computers, but much less of one.

      Here's to more programs like Rhythmbox and iTunes which have the *important* controls accessible, allow for easy categorisation of songs, and use screen space nicely. All that without having to resort to 6pt fonts.

  • Ah yes. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Stumbles (602007)
    What more documentation do you need than the source code? Seems plenty enough to me, seeing as by and large only developers would look at it anyway. Even if a non-programmer wanted to spin their propeller on it, the original author is only an email away. Seems rather complete to me. Of course the analysis would not be complete without an equation. 43 sounds about right to me..... it's one better than THE answer.
    • Re:Ah yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by generic-man (33649)
      Yes, but the original author is not required to answer your question satisfactorily if at all. Companies that plan a massive roll-out of an ERP tool can't rely on ad-hoc support; companies typically expect a support contract of some kind. Some Linux companies offer support contracts, but only for products which they have chosen to support.
    • At the very least I want a bit of plain English so that I can use grep to find the part of the source code I need to read without having to work out the naming conventions and hope they're used consistently.
  • Documentation? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The disadvantages of OSS development include absence of complete documentation or technical support.

    Yeah, it's nothing like closed source software, which always has complete documentation. I mean, look at Windows itself. All of that documentation about all of those API calls, lots of useful specifications about interoperating with the underlying kernel, plenty of specifications about the NTFS file system...

    Oh, wait. It's all kept "secret". Nevermind.

  • disadvantages of OSS development include absence of complete documentation or technical support.

    I don't think this is true. OSS, by its definition, does not preclude lack of docs or tech support. There are lots of projects and commercial or public ventures in OSS that provide great documentation and technical support.

    Individual developers or efforts spawn these things. Maybe the OSS community should set limited expectations in these fields and have a standards set. IE to be part of a certified OSS pro
  • by dilvie (713915) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:41PM (#11682159) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see the same story aproach done for closed source projects. Since the focus here was on open source, specifically, it wasn't really well balanced, and it didn't tell us anything new. Anybody who's browsed sourceforge could have told you that open source development has its share of problems.

    The real question is whether or not closed source projects are all that better off.
  • Disadvantage? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by null etc. (524767) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:43PM (#11682171)
    The disadvantages of OSS development include absence of complete documentation or technical support.

    And this differs from commercial software, how?

    I've spent 20 hours trying to figure out how undocumented or broken features behave in Rational's Enterprise Product Suite 2003. And that's expensive software.

    I'll choose the software whose source code I can examine any day of the week. Granted, I'm a developer. But it's much worse to lack both documention and source code.

    • That's what was on a sign in a coworker's office many years ago when I was working at a company that used IBM Mainframes, Solaris, and various other systems too.

      It was one of my first jobs, so she explained it to me by saying that OCO meant "Object Code Only"...

  • OR is it complex melange of requirements, funding, skills, time, staffing, testing and packaging? I looked at LWN yesterday and noted there were 400+ different distros for Linux. Probably 300 of them are either orphans or one or two person operations or the work of whichever crop of college labrats are working the time. Maintainability in this context is really a matter of discarding 4/5ths of the code out there that should be left to die. Take the time, skills and money and build more cooperative projects
  • by moz25 (262020) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:46PM (#11682229) Homepage
    The more high-profile OSS projects mostly do have quite extensive documentation and various mailingslists and forums to support it. Plus, if official support is lacking, it is always possible to get some sort of support from a third-party company as they have exactly the same access to the software as the original developers. With other words: the spectrum of support you *can* get is much larger, even if the support you *do* get (on the smaller) projects may be lower on average.
  • This is so reminiscent of other stupid claims of the past. "Cars can't go 60 mph." "Planes can't go supersonic." "Computers can't play checkers." "Computers can't play (pick one) expert level/master level/grandmaster level/world champion level chess." And so on.

    Now it's "Open source can't build ERP systems." As if it's that f-ing hard to glue together an MRP system, an accounting package, and maybe some CRM and HR software. I mean, duh.
  • by segmond (34052) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:47PM (#11682246)
    It takes being interested in a project for one to pour himself into it. Most hackers/programmers have a thing for Operating System and programming tools, So it's not suprise that OS projects are doing betters. Or Programming tools, GCC, editors, Programming Languages, Databases... I love to program, but I could never find myself programming an ERP system, just for some company to make money of. How is it going to meet my personal need? There has to be something in it for me!

    This is why accounting software, office software and lots of general use applications "suck" in the OSS word. The "motivation" is not there, even "ego" is not a good enough motivation. My fellow hackers will give me more props for some lousy 500 line python hack which does something weird and not so useful than a complete accounting software suite.

    What would be interesting is to see a group of companies start an OSS project from the ground up, pour their own money, pay programmers. But then again, there is no motivation for that! Big companies are only interested in jumping on OSS projects that happen to have gained fame...
    • But what incentive would the companies have to start an OSS project? Why not just make it closed-source and, at the very least, have "security through obscurity" (which DOES work, at least for a while)?
      • If they are going to join and support an existing OSS project, then why not start one? Of course, why open source a project from the get go when they can sell it?, that's the problem. Just like they don't have any incentive for pure OSS project unless there is cash in it for them, OSS hackers don't have incentive for business type of software unless there is cash in it.
      • by Mr. McGibby (41471) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:06PM (#11682523) Homepage Journal
        Good corporations understand the value of corporate alliances. Often, the cost of doing something by yourself isn't worth the payout. Business support software is one of those. Companies don't make money from selling their internally developed software. OSS provides a means for lots of small companies to get together to create this kind of software, without having to create a formal agreement. Sure, some companies are going to take advantage, but if it is open, then every company can add the features that it wants.

        The problem with a software company filling this role is that their system is proprietary and unmodifiable by the client. Most companies *do* have the resources to hire a programmer or a contractor to add a feature to a piece of OSS.

        Anyone have any ideas on how to prevent abuse of such a system? That is, too many people using the system and not enough people contributing?
        • The problem with a software company filling this role is that their system is proprietary and unmodifiable by the client. Most companies *do* have the resources to hire a programmer or a contractor to add a feature to a piece of OSS.

          Not quite. Most enterprise software comes with source available, and pretty much all of it gets customized once you get into bigger customers. Its actually a real PITA when it comes time to do upgrades. And yes, I'm an architect at an ERP vendor.
        • Anyone have any ideas on how to prevent abuse of such a system? That is, too many people using the system and not enough people contributing?

          In my experience, you can't worry about the people who don't contribute. It's their own loss -- though most will realize with time that it isn't worth the cost of maintaining private forks.

          The business decision for OSS is always a very calculated one. It comes down to this: after investing in development of any necessary improvements to an OSS package, are you st
    • What would be interesting is to see a group of companies start an OSS project from the ground up, pour their own money, pay programmers. But then again, there is no motivation for that! Big companies are only interested in jumping on OSS projects that happen to have gained fame...

      There are several examples of companies doing this, singly if not in group. For instance, Subversion [tigris.org] has paid developers to design and implement Subversion. X11 has seen quite a bit of paid development by various companies.

  • by melted (227442) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:48PM (#11682252) Homepage
    I've worked on a major product in CRM market, and let me tell you, don't want to know what goes into sausage. If you knew, you wouldn't touch this code with a 10 foot pole much less bet your company on it.

    I'm sure it's the same with ERP. It's just a huge polished turd, but because you don't have the source code you don't know it's a turd. You only see the polish.
    • I'm on the support side of a crm product and I totally believe you.

      Its often a case of fix one bug create 2 more. We've got customers who refuse to upgrade because they are worried about losing data, running into strange bugs that didn't exist in previous versions etc.

      I think a lot of stems from the fact that developers of this stuff tend to focus on putting new features in the program rather than stabilizing or documenting it.
  • ERP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fatcowtoes (105989) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:50PM (#11682280)
    However, it is still questionable whether systems like ERP could be developed successfully as OSS projects.

    Yeah, it's also still questionable whether systems like ERP can be developed successfully at all. I'd like to see statistics on the number of ERP implementations that go horribly wrong and wind up crippling or even bankrupting companies.
  • In a commercial organization, people are able to have face-to-face meetings and ask each other questions with few problems. In a widely-distributed open-source project, communication can be much slower and misunderstandings abound. All of this should be incentive to make clear, concise interfaces with method names and variables that are clear to another programmer. So it seems to me that the most successful open source projects (the ones with the most developers) probably have very clean and maintainable
  • However, it is still questionable whether systems like ERP could be developed successfully as OSS projects.

    GNU | Enterprise [gnuenterprise.org]

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:52PM (#11682301) Homepage Journal
    No joking here. An old question, what's the best accountant's answer to "how much is 2+2" is "whatever you'd like it to be."

    Custom Enterprise Resource Planning software sometimes includes parts no boss would want the IRS or other authorities to know. With Open Source they become blatantly obvious. In this case Security Through Obscurity is the only safe model.

    Sure a HONEST resource planning software can be open source. But it won't ever make the company as successful as one with some... extras.
  • I actually learnt a lot of programming top from just studying the code as I integrated thier solutions.

    People who write OS are because they are so good at what they do they enjoy it.

    Let them manage thier code and quit bitching, not all OSS is a community OSS.

    community (ala jakarta) are awesome and lovely, and better then browsing pr0n.

    greenday on tv. it all keeps adding up... I think I cracking up.... hdfkasu0 rar.
  • bogus measurements (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bluGill (862)

    I gave up when I read about counting lines of codes with comments. Comments are useful, but they indicate nothing about quality or lack thereof. Some code is self documenting, and thus has few comments. Other code is just uncommented. You cannot safely assume either one, which is what you must do when using any automatically commenting counting method.

    Their other measurements seem bogus too, but I'm not interesting in looking deeper into them.

  • In theory... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_skywise (189793) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:56PM (#11682374)
    I always thought that if you have enough people "chewing" (working) on the same module that it should eventually self-standardize into a least common denominator of maintainability. Which, if not the most maintainable code, should be as maintainable as possible given the design and interoperability constraints (with other modules). Evolutionarily speaking... it HAS to be maintainable or it "dies" (becomes unmaintained and then unused or superceded by another implementation).

    On the flip side, a closed source module could be built "top down" to a unified set of coding standards that would help maintainability. But it's not a requirement. I've seen plenty of code bases built just this way that were horrific... But still maintained and not changed because management was willing to throw enough money to keep things going (but not enough money to make it more interoperable).

    YMMV.
  • You can find a description of the maintainability index here [cmu.edu].

    If you look at the desription, you'll see that the equation was mainly "calibrated" based on a bunch of projects at HP. But fitting such an equation to a handful of self-selected projects doesn't give you any idea of how statistically valid it is.

    Furthermore, the maintainability index contains measures that you would expect to go up as software systems become bigger; therefore, it isn't even a meaningful comparison of software systems of differ
    • by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:04PM (#11683231)
      Particularly amusing is a term of 50 * sin (sqrt(2.4 * perCM)) in the maintainability index

      It's only amusing to people who don't bother to think about why it's there. It's actually a very insightful part of the metric.

      First of all, perCM ranges from 0 to 1, not 0 to 100. Yes, that isn't explicitly stated, but it would be ridiculous otherwise. Second, try looking at the damn graph.

      As I told somebody else, do it now. Don't pretend to do it, GRAPH the damn thing and look at it: sin(sqrt(2.4*x)) for x=0..1.

      That graph makes it completely transparent what they're trying to accomplish with that part of the formula. First off, if comments are 0, the value is 0. Having no comments does not positively impact maintainability! Second, the function PEAKS at around 0.43. This represents an avgCM of 0.03, or 3%. Then, the function begins to go down again, but not as drastically as it rose.

      What this is saying is that the benefit of comments has a maximum at around 3%. Having more comments than this tends to DECREASE the maintainability (and this is borne out by experience). However, having too many comments is better than having too few comments, so the function is skewed to the left side by the sqrt() function.

      You see, every part of that expression makes total sense if you spend more than 2 nanoseconds thinking about it. Sheesh.

  • Open Source ERP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stiller (451878) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:03PM (#11682485) Homepage Journal
    However, it is still questionable whether systems like ERP could be developed successfully as OSS projects.

    I could be mistaken, but isn't Compiere [compiere.org] an established OSS ERP implementation?

    I think the questin shouldn't be: 'Can software like ERP be developed as OSS?' But rather: 'Are there enough people in the OSS community interested enough to develop this kind of software without any form of financial support?' I think the answer has turned out to be 'no'. The same goes for things like (good) financial software, and anything that would require heaps of work, high precision and coordination, but no spectaculair result for the common man to brag about.
    • IIRC Compiere requires Oracle, which is not free as in beer or in speech.

      But rather: 'Are there enough people in the OSS community interested enough to develop this kind of software without any form of financial support?'

      Hmm. I wonder though. How many large/important OSS projects are run without people who do not receive some form of compensation from their employers for at least part of their efforts? After all, organizations have itches too.

      It would be interesting to do a study of this; leaving a

  • These gentlemen seem to be implying that open source is a development model when in reality it is a licensing scheme.

    Microsoft might want you to believe open source is a development model they can learn from and harass the benefits of, but the truth is that open source is a set of rights and philosophy related to licensing. An open source project can use any development model.
  • the lack of technical support for open source software. I have gotten more help on more issues by searching Google than I have EVER gotten from some "central" help center for any closed source application.
  • by phkamp (524380) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:15PM (#11682643) Homepage
    Have you guys looked at the formula ?

    They take sin(sqrt(mumble_percent)).

    Now, I'm all for emperical data, but that is just bistromatics and totally insane.

    They don't even say if the argument to the sine function is in degrees or radians and one is left to wonder if they even know themselves...

    I have no doubt that if you take a piece of code and does a before&after check after some major rewriting it may tell you something.

    But comparing two different pieces of code with this formula is just plain bogus.

    Poul-Henning
    • by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:49PM (#11683074)
      They take sin(sqrt(mumble_percent)).

      Now, I'm all for emperical data, but that is just bistromatics and totally insane.

      Metrics are already "black magic." This one is no worse or better than any other dimensionless metric I've seen.

      Obviously the input is in radians. The argument to a trig function is always assumed to be radians unless otherwise specified. Now, the sqrt(mumble percent) can only range from 0 to 1, so what we're looking at here is the graph of the sin function from 0 to 2.4 radians.

      Do it now. Graph it. Graph the function sin(sqrt(2.4*x)) from x=0..1

      Notice that this function (you might call it a transfer function) ramps up and peaks at 0.43 radians. That corresponds to a comment percentage of 3%. Then it begins to go down again. What does this mean? It means that there is a point beyond which more comments are not useful. If more than 3% of your code is comments, there's something wrong. That's all that part of the equation means!

      You only classify it as "bistromatics" because you're too lazy to do the thinking and figure out what it's for.

  • by mcdtracy (180768) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:18PM (#11682691)
    Quality is still a happy user. Users like software
    the works well and hopefully doesn't need a lot of documentation to make it work well. Great software
    tends to teach the user how to make it perofmr or at least motivate the user to want ot invest the time to master the software for a particular use.

    These guys need to understand that this approach to quality applies to all software, irrespective of
    development model behind it. A software product with a lot of customers creates the momentum to maintain and enhance that product. An OSS product can be infused with similar energy due to acceptance by a large community of users (esp if many are programmer's too). The feedback from the users incents the programmers to maintain and enhance the product.

    New models can be built from hybrids of OSS (donated programming in the commons) and products
    that one must buy. If there emerges an ERP OSS app then there will be a business opportunity to document/train, support/fix/enhance/customize that application... and Oracle will feel the same frustration competing with that model that MS does competing with Linux.

    These complaints against OSS as a model (no obtion to buy support or docs) are a business opportunity
    that has been put into play by JBOSS, MySQL, and soon to be hundreds of others. The low barrier to entry is the key to high usage... It's try and don't buy (unless you'd like some training, customization, focus product enhancements, etc).

    Volume, usage and effectiveness drives the software world. Quality just makes the ride more comfortable. And OSS gets more comfortable everytime the train puls through the station.
  • There metric that measures self descriptabiity, is going to be way off if they don't strip out the GPL license for projects that include it in every file.

    LetterRip
  • by dwheeler (321049) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:37PM (#11682935) Homepage Journal
    It's worth noting that a slightly older variation of this paper was already referenced in Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers! [dwheeler.com] back in 2004-09-30. Look at their results, the actual numbers give a rather positive story: "1. Using tools such as MI derived for measuring CSS quality, OSS code quality appears to be at least equal and sometimes better than the quality of CSS code implementing the same functionality."

    OSS is no silver bullet. Their last point is "OSS code quality seems to suffer from the very same problems that have been observed in CSS projects." Er, big surprise, they're all software.

  • by coldtone (98189) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:19PM (#11683399)
    I have seen many a software project disregard performance, features, and development speed all in the name of maintainability.

    We can't use JSP's, there hard to maintain!
    We can't use Javascript, it's loosely typed!
    We have to use an Object Broker, SQL is not maintainable!

    All the projects that I have been on where code maintainability has been the primary goal have one thing in common. They all failed.

    If you spend all of your time worrying about how the code looks, you will never finish the project. Talk to people who have built successful software. (The ones that sold millions of copies.) Very few of them are proud of the code the wrote, but they are happy with the product.

    The focus should always be on product quality, not code quality.
    • by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @10:27PM (#11685144) Journal
      We can't use JSP's, there hard to maintain!
      We can't use Javascript, it's loosely typed!
      We have to use an Object Broker, SQL is not maintainable!

      All the projects that I have been on where code maintainability has been the primary goal have one thing in common. They all failed.


      If that is their idea of "maintainable", they didn't fail because they shot for maintainable, they failed because they drank the kool-aide and trapped themselves into software paradigms that only work when oodles of resources are thrown at them. Smaller teams require more agile methods to get results, and that is also the mechanism whereby smaller teams can produce software where larger teams failed. (It goes both ways, I'm not claiming that as an absolute. But that small teams can and have beaten much bigger ones is an unassailable fact.)

      Certainly you've got some good facts at hand to learn from, but I think you're taking the wrong lesson away. Projects that simply ignore maintainability fail, too. Can you imagine Mozilla with no concern for maintainability, or the Linux kernel?

      The focus should always be on product quality, not code quality.

      If you don't have quality code, you don't have a quality product. You may have an adequate product. You may be in a situation where an adequate product is all you need. I have an adequate set of knives in my kitchen, because I can not afford quality knives. But I do not pretend that they are therefore quality knives.

      You're calling for a classic short-term focus, and you can and will suffer the classic penalties for short-term focus. I know, I've seen it first hand and dragged software products out of their local optima by the sweat of my brow. It's not easy, but either it happens or the product dies a code-quality death.

      You need to use the proper metric for quality. Inappropriately using and paying for a strong type system is anti-quality in my book; that goes for your other two examples as well, when done correctly. (SQL and JSP code both need to be rationally minimized via the application of Once and Only Once, but they are not the cause of the unmaintainability; the abandonment of Once and Only Once is. Once and Only Once is one of the most important aspects of any proper quality metric.) Your quality metric should have functionality built into it.
  • by doc modulo (568776) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:28PM (#11683503)
    - C++ is more readable than assembler
    - C# and Java are more readable than C++ ...
    - At the end of this list are functional programming languages.

    If you can read source more easily, then maintainability will be better.

    This article [paulgraham.com] will tell you why you should be interested in functional programming languages. If you're smart and open minded, you will be convinced.

    The best functional languages are Haskell [haskell.org] and Erlang [erlang.org] (click "next" at the bottom of the page).

    For example, with Java you prevent bugs by static typing variables, example:

    int numberOfTries = 3;

    If you later try to fill "numberOfTries" with a string, the compiler will warn you of a bug and you'll have prevented it.

    With Haskell, you don't have to type int. Haskell will figure out the type for you, you get the benefit of preventing bugs with the convenience of not having to type variables.

    The reason I chose Erlang is because with functional purely functional programming languages like Erlang, you can automatically multitask your program over several CPU's (or this will take minimal effort). Nice feature to have in the future because every CPU manufacturere is going multi-core chip now. Also, you can easily make a server that never goes down with Erlang because your server is automatically clustered. Just plonk down a couple networked PC's and if one dies, the server cluster will just keep on going (a bit slower) until you replaced the power supply of the broken PC.

    There are tons of other advantages but, as I said, the above links will convince you if you're smart. Haskell is a bit more academic in nature, they're figuring out the best possible language and Erlang is more polished and ready to go. It was invented by Ericsson to create ultra reliable realtime servers.
  • by rastin (727137) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:38PM (#11683641)
    Are there standard methodologies for making non-oss code maintainable? If there are its news to me, every place I've worked has been uterly bass ackwards with their source code. Redundant libraries that do the same functions (one writen by Bob the other by Fred). Documentation that is years out of date with reality. And all the dead objects floating around, (its safer to leave them in that pull them out). With non-oss you get a pretty users manual, maybe that is what people call maintainable. Not to say there can't be sloppy OSS code. I think a great topic for discussion would be just plain maintainablity, whether its OSS or not.

    The article mentions doubt on whether an ERP system can be build OSS, why not? Are they planning on giving every end user the source code and ability to recompile the company's ERP? When I install Linux and friends on my mother-in-law's computer I don't plan on giving her the source code, is it implied that OSS is less maintainable because you cannot tell if someone has an altered version? It just freaking code!
  • by famebait (450028) on Wednesday February 16, 2005 @04:43AM (#11686918)
    While they admit further research is needed,

    It's not usually all that hard to get people to "admit" that they'd like more funding.

    disclaimer: that was not meant as a rant, I work in science myself. But "more research is needed" is a running joke in the community. It doesn't detrect from the work, but every publication on the planet includes it, and every serious reader treats it as a mere formality and silently ignores it.

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