Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Open Source Software Tools And Directories: Where To Find Them, How To Evaluate Them

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If you are searching for Open Source software, where do you find good directories and collections of OSS tools, and how do you evaluate the many candidates available?

Photo credit: Ophelia Cherry

Unless you are looking for popular popular open source software - such as the ones available in the SourceForge top downloads or the few ones backed by vendors like Apache, Linux, MySQL, PHP, eMule, GIMP, OpenOffice or VLC, Google search might not be your best solution to find specific open source software to suit your needs.

For example, if you search for an open source web editor on Google, you won't find BlueGriffon, a web editor based on the Firefox rendering engine Gecko (a tool I recommend to try either if you are an experienced or a beginner web author).

Looking at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn lists of favorite open-source tools, it is clear that these OSS tools are definitely not something the average person has ever heard of.

The key point here is that to find the right open source tool may not be a trivial task, but anyone can learn how to do it on his own.

In this MasterNewMedia guide, open source software expert Roberto Galoppini, author of SOS Open Source, a pragmatic methodology to find and evaluate open source software, provides you with the basic pointers, resources and evaluation criteria to start looking on your own.

How do you find good open source software, easily?


How to Find an Open-Source Alternative to a Commercial Software

by Roberto Galoppini


OK, let's say I'm not a geek and I need an open source alternative for something... where do I start?

  1. The first place to look at in this case is OSALT, a website created and maintained by Anders Ingeman Rasmussen enlisting open source alternatives to well-known proprietary consumers products (e.g. replacements for Dreamweaver, Photoshop).

    OSALT reports a brief description for all open source alternatives, including supported operative systems and also other similar tools. While OSALT doesn't provide the ultimate answer to all possible needs, is a good starting point, and everyone can help by suggesting open source software to Anders.

  2. SourceForge, the world's largest repository of open source software, is another good place to
    look at. Particularly useful are its new directory pages for Windows and Mac.
  3. A (partial) list of open source packages is available on Wikipedia too.
  4. Free Software Directory, a project of the Free Software Foundation and UNESCO.
  5. 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.
  6. Free Software Portal.
  7. Google Code and CodePlex are respectively Google and Microsoft open source code hosting hubs and central repositories.
  8. Enterprise Open Source Directory is the only public directory about enterprise-grade open source applications, providing 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).

Unfortunately there is no central directory listing all the open-source software tools available out there, and for those who want to try lesser-known open-source tools they will need to search a little bit harder.

If you want to evaluate open-source tools by yourself, here is a starting list of evaluation criteria you can use to start your selection:


Basic Open-Source Evaluation Criteria

1. Code Maturity


Evaluation criteria:

  • Too young (< 1 year)
  • Young (1-3 years)
  • Mature (> 3 years)

Browse forges / meta-forges to get further info on this.

Keep in mind that sometimes projects are not released under an open-source license from the very first day. Worst: source code can be moved from a forge to forge without warning. So prepare yourself to do a lot of research.


2. Project Popularity


Evaluation criteria:

  • Unknown
  • Small popularity but growing trend
  • Well known

Use Social Media search tools like Google Trends (great for comparisons, as far as projects' names are not popular words per se).


3. Case Study Availability


Evaluation criteria:

  • Unkown
  • Case studies available only on the website
  • Case studies available on the net

Use search engines on vendor or community website and on the net.


4. Books


Evaluation criteria:

  • None
  • Few
  • Many

Browse online bookstores (e.g. O'Reilly, Packt) and search also on project website.


5. (Community) Team Size


Evaluation criteria:

  • 1-5 members
  • 5-10 members
  • > 10 members

Analyze community size, preferably using meta-forges or other code repository tools (e.g. GitHub Graph Visualyzer).


6. Commercial Support


Evaluation criteria:

  • N/A
  • Available only in a geographic area or language
  • Available from multiple vendors in different languages

Browse project and vendor website (e.g.: look for support / services / consulting section) and search on the net (especially for third parties' support, a must if you want to avoid the vendor lock-in trap).


7. Training


Evaluation criteria:

  • N/A
  • Available only in a geographic area or language
  • Available from multiple vendors in different languages

Browse project and vendor website (e.g. look for training / certification sections) and search on the net (see above).


8. Documentation


Evaluation criteria:

  • N/A
  • Available only in one language
  • Available in many languages

Browse project and vendor website (e.g. look for specific documentation / resources sections) and search for additional info on the net.


9. Bugs Reactivity


Evaluation criteria:

  • Poor
  • Formalized but not reactive
  • Formalized and reactive

Browse project website (e.g. analyze bug-tracking systems/forums in order to understand if high priority bugs are closed on average in a short period of time).


10. Source


Evaluation criteria:

  • To be compiled
  • Binaries available
  • Virtual appliance available

Browse download pages and remember that virtual appliances - which very useful to test server application software - sometimes are provided from third-parties (e.g. Bitnami, Turnkey).


11. Red Hat / Solaris / Windows


Evaluation criteria:

  • N/A
  • Supported by third parties
  • Certified by Red Hat - Oracle - Microsoft

Browse download page and vendor website.


12. License


Evaluation criteria:

  • Copyleft
  • Corporate

  • Permissive

Browse project website.


13. Modifiability


Evaluation criteria:

  • No way to propose modification
  • Tools to access and modify code available but the process is not well defined
  • Tools and procedures to propose modifications are available

Browse project website, especially issue / bug-tracking systems and forums.


14. Roadmap


Evaluation criteria:

  • N/A
  • Not detailed roadmap available
  • detailed roadmap available

Browse project website.


15. Sponsor


Evaluation criteria:

  • Unique sponsor
  • Community sponsor
  • Foundation - consortium sponsor

Browse project website.


Further Resources To Evaluate Open-Source Software

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

Calculate the reuse of a program, or analyze code quality is possible too. Going through all possible forges/meta-forges and tools can be extremely time-consuming, though.

N.B.: Information about code maturity, commercial support, availability of resources such as documentation or tools to extend these OS programs are of great importance to companies and organizations, but are hardly made available on open source projects websites (unless these are backed by open source vendors, something rarely happening).

SOS Open Source provides a full list of open source software metrics and tips about how to compute them, as well as resources and guidance on how to conduct a software selection, how to compare forks or how to evaluate a wiki.

Originally written by Roberto Galoppini for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 29th, 2011 as Open Source Software Tools And Directories: Where To Find Them, How To Evaluate Them

About Roberto Galoppini


Roberto Galoppini is an expert in open source business, he takes an active interest in open source projects and organizations, and he is also on the advisory boards for international software companies and SourceForge. He is founder of one of the first Italian Open Source firms and of the first Italian open source consortium. He consulted to the National Center for IT in the Public Administration cowriting the open source guidelines and he has been a member of the open source working group instituted by the Minister of Regions and Local Authorities. Roberto among his customers counts IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Poste Italiane, Red Hat e Telecom Italia. He is the editor of commercial open source blog.

Photo credits:
Code Maturity - Kmit Ivan
How to Find an Open-Source Alternative to a Commercial Software - Hypermania
Project Popularity - Tomas Troy
Case Study Availability - Clipart

Roberto Galoppini -
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posted by on Tuesday, March 29 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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