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UC Davis Researchers Receive Grant to Study Open Source Dev

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That's the question Premkuma Devanbu, professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Davis is hoping to answer. Devanbu and his team have won a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct a three-year study examining how open source software is built.

The study seeks to reveal how the structure and organization of a development team can impact the resulting code. However, the nature of the software itself can dictate the way software development teams are structured. For instance, software broken into small chunks may allow many teams to work in parallel, while more monolithic code can mandate a centralized effort.

By examining high-profile open source projects such as the Apache Web server, PostgreSQL database, and the Python scripting language, Devanbu hopes to draw meaningful conclusions about development organizations and their ability to produce quality software. Devanbu says his team selected open source projects because they are able to gain unfettered access to communications, including emails and IM chat logs.

One intriguing issue for Devanbu is the question of why open source projects seem to defy Brooks' Law, which states that adding manpower to a late software project only makes it later.

"It's not surprising when you bring people in, because you have to train them," says Devanbu. "But that doesn't seem to happen in open source projects—things seem to go faster. I'm not sure why. But it could be that people are trained before they join the project. They self-train."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is the founding editor of Redmond Developer News. Contact him at mdesmond@reddevnews.com.

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