The European Commission is investing some of the final chunks of change in its Framework 6 Research and Development budget into four projects dedicated to defining and checking the quality of open source software. The total investment is in the region of €25m, and is being matched by money from industry.
The work is being coordinated by UK open source services firm Sirius, and involves software experts from industry, academia and the open source community.
Mark Taylor, Sirius's CEO, says one of the aims of the projects is to develop a way that companies can properly evaluate the quality of an open source product.
"In our work as consultants, we only advise clients to use so-called enterprise class products. But beyond taking advice from experts, how do you quantify what counts as 'enterprise class'. Working that out is part of the motivation for us on these projects."
The four projects are as excruciatingly-named as we have come to expect from anything the EC funds.
Firstly there is QualIPSO, a four year project involving more than 30 partners. Its aim is to look at the wider picture of software quality - not just open source software. Paul Adams, Sirius's head of R&D, notes that even defining what counts as software quality is an interesting question.
Next up we have FlossMetrics, which aims to document the current state of the art of software quality measurement, and then work out what should be used in the future. QualOSS then aims to develop tools based on current metrics, while Sqo-OSS (pronounced squash) is intended to develop tools based on the newly identified metrics.
Taylor explains that they are already identifying new ways that the quality of a piece of software can be assessed, such as the level of developer activity, the kind of support a user can expect, the growth of new features and so on.
"Many of these are intangible things, intuitive and experiential," he notes.
What he hopes to achieve with the EC research is a way of formalising these measures, and turning them into tools people can use as developers to improve their work, and as customers, to make better informed purchasing decisions.
As a founder of the Open Source Consortium, Taylor also has an interest in increasing the level of professionalism in the open source community. He explains that one of the major criticisms of open source is that it is "cobbled together by a bunch of acne-ridden teens" He argues that having a way of demonstrating "provable quality" will really help tackle that.
He adds with a smile: "And we can say to the proprietary firms: I've shown you mine, now you show me yours." ®