This research project deals with the puzzles for organizational research presented by open source software projects. Open source software development projects are Internet-based networks or communities of software developers, and the software they develop (binaries as well as the source code) is made freely available to all. Open source software projects and development processes have spread rapidly and widely, and many thousands of such projects exist today.
Open source software has also been enjoying great success in the software market, where end users such as firms, governments and government agencies as well as private users are increasingly adopting open source software as an alternative to commercial software. For example, the open source operating system GNU/Linux is already used in NASA space shuttles and various governments are switching towards open source operating systems.
Commercial software firms (e.g., IBM or Netscape, but also a large number of small- and medium-sized companies in Switzerland and abroad) are also involved in developing and using open source software as a new element in their product strategy. In 2002, for example, IBM and HP have had a turnover of together 3.5bn USD related to GNU/Linux products.
The phenomenon of open source software is of great scholarly interest to many. Its spectacular success over the last decade, including the creation of category killer software, i.e. software with such a high market share that no other application in this category would exist, together with the appearance of unconventional business models pose major new questions on fundamental matters ranging from the economics of innovation to the principles by which productive work can best be organized. Still, in spite of its relevance to numerous theoretical disciplines in the management and innovation field, research on open source software development is in its infancy stage.
In our research project, we will focus on two broad areas of interest: the processes taking place in open source software development projects, and the competitive dynamics between open source software and commercial, closed source software. Our focus on processes will attempt to answer two main questions: (1) how do open source software projects evolve and develop over time? (2) what are the decision-making processes in open source software projects, and do successful projects differ in their decision-making processes from failing projects? When dealing with the competitive dynamics of open source, we will address the question how incumbent commercial software providers react to the availability of open source software as a no-cost substitute for their products.
Given the recent impact our team has been able to exert on this fledgling field of research and our established national and international research collaborations, we believe we are well positioned to generate insights into open source software development. In previous work, we have become familiar with the vast amount of empirical data available on both the wide range of open source software projects and the data on the inner workings of individual projects. Also, we have been in contact with major contributors to the open source software movement, which facilitates rapid entry into specific communities in selected open source software projects.
Our research project on processes and competitive dynamics of open source software is likely to substantially contribute to the understanding of open source software development and its implications for researchers and practitioners. These implications are likely to extend to research areas such as economics of innovation, management of technological innovation, strategy, and economic sociology. In practical terms, such improved knowledge may benefit both software firms that use open source software in their product offerings and traditional firms in the IT industry that have been using and contributing to open source software projects on a large scale.