Towards the end of April I found myself spending 2 enjoyable days in the company of OMII-UK members at the OMII-UK collaboration Workshop along with others involved in e-Research in various capacities. Steve Brewer, project manager of the Engage project, invited me to provide OSS Watch input at the event which included Open Source and Open Development as a key theme. This provided an opportunity for me to learn more about e-Research and meet those working in it, whilst also passing on some of our experience in open development to those project team members wanting to better embrace the techniques. Dr Mario Antonioletti, principle consultant at EPCC and long time OGSA-DAI project team member subsequently requested that I facilitate a session which became the following:
How to invigorate your project with open development: Using an OSI approved open source licence on your project artefacts and putting them on a public server is one thing but how do you nurture a lively community that ensures your project continues to develop and becomes self sustaining? Open development is the lifeblood of successful open source projects but how does it work, what tools and process make is successful? How does it mesh with the project life cycle and at what stage should it be introduced? This breakout will explore open development and how it can be applied to individual projects. Come along and share questions, suggestions and experiences from your own projects.
This was a deliberate ploy to concentrate everyone’s energy on understanding open development as opposed to open source, as I explained in both this session and another lead by Steve Brewer on ‘Accelerating the deployment and uptake of open source tools in e-Research’. Working for OSS Watch has help me clarify my understanding of a fundamental principle of open source projects. This is something that, having been active in several open source projects, I rather take for granted, but that is often not immediately apparent to newcomers to the scene. The Apache Software Foundation say it well in their policy statement of ‘community over code’, and back in 1992 the IETF’s phrase ‘We believe in: rough consensus and running code’ puts community decision making first. Having worked with active open source projects such as Mozilla and GNOME it’s clear to me that nurturing a vibrant and diverse community is the vital ingredient for success and sustainability. In contrast there is often a focus of attention on licence issues by those new to open source, and while this is a key part of the picture, OSS Watch now also emphasise ‘open development’ in order to restore balance. This also helps projects more clearly see why fundamentals such as encouraging participation through the use of well tested collaboration tools and having a clear governance model are critical for their long term health.
Accordingly I was keen to steer discussion towards the issues surrounding open development and how to achieve it, as well as providing recommendations and clearly indicating OSS Watch’s desire to work with projects, providing support from our collective experience.
During the 2 days I chatted with members of at least 4 mature e-Research projects, each at an intermediate stage of practising open development; OGSA-DAI, DIASER, ALADDIN and Portal Access Grid. I encouraged all to go a stage further towards fully embracing open development, so it is exciting to hear announcements from 2 of them that clearly indicate that they heeded some of our recommendations.
Damian Brasher’s DIASER was already practising many of the principles and has now followed our recommendation to make early decisions and design notes available as project memory as these were not originally discussed on the public discussion lists. This involved considerable work but the outcome is that anyone can now find this information archived on public list and can more easily evaluate the project.
OGSA-DAI started as a closed community project though it is now released under an open source licence. During the workshop Mario stated his desire for the project to practice open development as I described it. Thus it was a pleasure to see an article by Mike Jackson in the June 09 edition of National e-Science Centre news stating they are commited to achieving it.
OGSA-DAI: from open source product to open source project
The OGSA-DAI project has been funded by EPSRC for an additional year, until April 2010. This funding will enable us to evolve OGSA-DAI from an open source product into an open source project.
An international community of users and developers has formed around OGSA-DAI, our unique open source product for access to and integration of distributed heterogeneous data resources. This includes projects and institutions in a myriad of fields including medical research, environmental science, geo-sciences, the arts and humanities and business.
Moving to an open source project will provide the community with a focal point for the evolution, development, use and support of OGSA-DAI and its related components, providing a means by which
members can develop and release their components alongside the core product. It will also provide an avenue to ensure the sustainability of their components. Over the next few months we will set in place the
governance and infrastructure of the OGSA-DAI open source project. This will be done in conjunction with key community members, and will draw upon the expertise of our OMII-UK partners in Manchester and
Southampton and in the Globus Alliance. We aim to roll out our open source project site in October.
Our move to an open source project contributes to OMII-UK’s vision to promote software sustainability, and will guarantee that the lifetime of the OGSA-DAI product will exist out with any single institution or
funding stream. In addition, we will continue to develop the product and engage with international standardisation activities:
The OGSA-DAI project -which involves both EPCC and the National e-Science Centre- is funded by EPSRC through OMII-UK.
I’d like to congratulate both projects for taking these important steps toward open development and wish them every success. I’m sure the OSS Watch team will be most interested to hear how they progress, I know I am.
OSS Watch provide many articles about open source development including a guide to participating in an open source community and a review of one of the best books on the subject – Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel.