Martin Michlmayr
Cambridge and the river

I completed a PhD at the Centre for Technology Management, located within Cambridge University's Department of Engineering.

Department of Engineering

In July 2007, I completed a PhD at the Centre for Technology Management, University of Cambridge. My research focused on quality management in free software projects, with an emphasis on release management.

While some free software projects show a high level of quality, often on par or even surpassing that of proprietary software, there are a number of unique challenges free software projects face. One central question is how free software projects can ensure a constant high level of quality when many of the participants are volunteers whose involvement in a project changes constantly.

The aim of my research was to identify existing quality related problems in open source projects and to use the outcomes as a starting point for the development of quality improvement strategies. In exploratory interviews with a number of free software developers, release management has been found to be a problematic area and the research subsequently focused on this topic in particular as one aspect of quality management.

There are several reasons why release management in free software projects is often associated with problems. First of all, many maintainers of software are programmers who do not necessarily have the coordination and management skills needed for release management. Secondly, during a release, extra commitment from project participants is required in order to meet deadlines but volunteers may not be able to put in more work than usual. Finally, there is often a dichotomy between the requirements of users and developers. Since developers mainly use development releases, they might not see the need for a well tested and stable release aimed at less technical and corporate users.

Inadequate release management can lead to a number of problems, such as software which is out of date, breaks compatibility, does not meet the quality standards or the requirements of users. This research has identified such problems, has identified good practices in free software and has developed further processes and techniques to improve release management in free software projects.

Further information

Acknowledgements

This research was partly funded by Google, Intel, the NUUG Foundation, Fotango, and the UK research council EPSRC.