Control in Open Source Software Development

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* Article: Control in Open Source Software Development, Robert Poole. Open Source Business Resource, January 2011: The Business of Open Source.



"In this article, we examine typical fears associated with a perceived loss of control in an open source software development project. We describe various development models, including hybrid models that provide companies with control over key aspects of product development. Finally, a description of control within open source projects illustrates that self-regulating control mechanisms that exist in this model. A better understanding of control as a factor will help companies achieve their for-profit objectives using open source software." (


Robert Poole:

"It is important to examine the level and types of control available within open source software projects. At least in the area of control over development direction and quality, Gallivan (2001) identified strong explicit and implicit forms of control in open source development practices. Explicit control refers to rules and norms provided in the documentation and agreements; implicit control refers to the emphasis on individual reputation, which is an important currency in open communities, especially when non-monetary motivations are prevalent.

Similarly, Markus and colleagues (2000) noted the importance of both self-control and social control in virtual organizations generally and open source development communities specifically. In this context, the desire of developers to preserve and enhance their own reputation provides self-control mechanisms; in contrast, social control mechanisms ensure that developers are monitored by their peers, who provide openly positive and negative feedback, potentially including sanctions as a further extension of explicit control.

Companies can also exert control over development by offering incentives to developers to work on particular features or tasks (Dahlander, 2008). These incentives may include competitions or even financial compensation. Similarly, more and more open source developers are being paid by their employers to contribute to open source projects, which also provides a direct form of control from sponsor companies over development efforts.

The process of applying open source principles to a product opens the innovation process to individuals outside of the company. This process also requires a change to the company's business model and drives the need for entrepreneurs and senior management to make decisions around who will control a product's development and how this control will be exerted, both explicitly and implicitly.

Finally, companies should also view the control issue from the perspective of their customers. Although the company may be giving up a degree of control, one of the key benefits of open source software, as expressed by customers, is the increased control over their own business processes. While the provider company may not wish to reduce the switching costs of its customers through their support of open source solutions, this effect may be counterbalanced by an increase in customers who are attracted by the increased control offered to them.

Despite the success of many open source strategies, proprietary-minded companies may still fear the loss of control over product development, and the resulting impacts on progress, quality, competitive advantage, and the protection of intellectual property. Understanding the mechanisms of control inherent in open source projects and the benefits of hybrid approaches helps companies articulate these fears and make appropriate strategic decisions to match their business objectives." (

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