How to Find Open Source Software

29 April 2010

Discovering which open source software do you use maybe an “easy” game to play – using products like OSS Discovery Audit Edition scanning for over 330,000 open source projects to produce a baseline inventory of open source usage or also Krugle Basic providing basic code discovery and code duplication capabilities – but find useful open source packages can be trickier to master.

Open Source Directories

The first attempt to create a list of Generally Recognized As Mature/Safe is due David Wheeler. The list was created in 2003, thanks to the sponsorship of MITRE, and contains 38 different projects. David mantained it for a while, the final version contains 41 different projects, and even if it is old is still valid.

Since then many more have been working on creating lists. Among them the Free Software Directory, a project of the Free Software Foundation and UNESCO, FreshMeat (providing descriptions of thousands of open source programs, history of the project’s releases, links to download it and to how obtain more information), the Free Software Portal at Wikipedia and many many others.

OSALT enlists few open source alternatives to well-known proprietary consumers products. Anders Ingeman Rasmussen – OSALT’s author – is the only manitainer of the list, and welcomes suggestions. Read more about OSALT at my blog.

Enterprise Open Source directory is the only public directory about enterprise-grade open source applications. The directory, originally launched at Optaros by Bruno von Rotz, is now fully under his control, and he created an advisory board to strengthen the neutral approach to ratings and selection of free software technologies [disclosure: I’m a board member]. EOS provides expert and user ratings, case studies and forums about over 250 packages (German readers can take advantage of the full 2009 open source catalog, containing 354 open source technologies).

Open Source Forge

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SourceForge is probably the largest forges hosting thousands of open source projects, but it is definitely not the only one. Google Code is relatively new but hosts many thousands projects, as well as does CodePlex – the Microsoft Microsoft’s open source project hosting web site – that keeps growing.

Many other forges are less famous but deserve attention from different audiences. Think of OSOR forge, a repository containing only open source projects for public administrations, or Codehaus hosting preferably open source projects with a strong emphasis on modern languages, or Alioth, aimed at the Debian project.

Open Source MetaForge

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Meta-forges are open source directories featuring metrics and analysis of projects hosted at other forges. Meta-forges like Ohloh, FLOSSMole or Melquiades are very useful to qualify open source projects, making available information about code contributions, code quality, licensing, etc.

I'm Feeling LuckyThere is no equivalent of the “I’m feeling lucky ™” google button when it comes to open source pre-selection. Going through all the possible forges and meta-forges can be extremely time-consuming, but it is the only way to, though. Only few dozens of project are backed by companies with the cashes resources to be able to invest in marketing, and very few projects manage to get in the know.

Above mentioned meta-forges can be of great help to conduct broad searches. Searching through forges and meta-forges may require the usage of advanced search filters, especially considering that the project’s name is unlikely to be known to non-specialists.

Software categories, projects’ descriptions and other attributes are useful to identify candidates, but every forge and meta-forge presents different filters and options.  SOS Open Source manages the pre-selection phase providing the user with a meta-search functionality masquerading the complexity of search strategies.

Eu-funded projects around open source quality and open source software assessment methodologies don’t cover to the pre-selection phase, but OpenBRR.  The Business Readiness Rating methodology defines 4 different phases of software assessment, and the first is about a “quick assessment” to rule in or rule out software packages and create a shortlist of viable candidates. While it doesn’t provide specific tips or hints about how to do it, OpenBRR identifies several viability indicators, including the following:

What is the licensing/legal situation of the software?
• Are there referenceable adopters or users for it?
• Is a supporting or stable organization associated with the development efforts?
• What is its implementation language?
• Does it support internationalization and localization in your desired language?
• Are there third-party reviews of the software?
• Have books been published about the software?
• Is it being followed by industry analysts, such as Gartner or IDC?

SOS Open Source has been designed considering all these indicators, as well as others derived from the QSOS methodology, considered by some researchers the most comprehensive. SOS Open Source using a mix of seach engine queries (Google, Google trends, Amazon, etc), accessing a local databases containing open source projects’ data, and getting other data via APIs (basically accessing meta-forges) provide the assessor with easy to use objective measures of projects’ Robustness and Evolvability.