True Open Source Quality

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A year ago, I was rather bemused by the EU, which had announced three research projects around open source: QUALOSS, FLOSSMETRICS and SQO-OSS. Initially, I was still somewhat at a loss when I learned that the inimitably-named SQO-OSS has produced its first software:

Developed by a consortium of European businesses, academics and open source software projects, the new application will analyse the product quality of open source software projects and assess the true potential of the development communities around them.

A demonstration of the system is available at the Alitheia Core demo server, where users will be able to see the system as run against a selection of different open source software projects.

As the Alitheia Core matures it will allow open source software projects to deploy the system for themselves to monitor their own code quality.

Alitheia Core's current features include:

- System administration allowing the installation of new project data
- Metrics: lines of code count, lines of comments count and a cross-language metrics tool
- A web-based user interface for the display of calculation results

Things finally became clear when I did my duty and slogged through the painfully-detailed, EU-speak-laden description of the contract, which included the following by way of helpful explanation:

What do we know about the quality of the software you are using? A well-known conjecture in software engineering is that external quality characteristics are correlated to internal quality characteristics and thus the measurement of source code provides useful data for the assessment of its quality. Uniquely, open source software allows us to examine the actual code and perform white box testing and analysis of it. In most open source projects we can also access their version control system, mailing lists and issue databases. We can use these data sources to extract quality indicators through techniques, such as data mining.

SQO-OSS aims to increase the competitiveness of European software development SMEs through a holistic approach of software quality assessment, initially targeting open source software. The project seeks to use as many sources of quality indicators as possible so as to create a set of metrics that can be applied automatically to a software project’s repository in order to extract quantifiable measurements of its quality.

This is an important point: you can apply software metrics to any open source code to see how well it does against them. If those metrics are well chosen, and succeed in encapsulating software quality in some way, anyone can use them to judge free software and monitor its development. This contrasts with closed-source, black-box software, whose quality can only be judged by the developers. Not only are they hardly likely to share their results, but it would be impossible to corroborate them anyway without full access to the code – something that is rarely given, and then only with all kinds of problematic licensing strings attached.

So, despite my initial doubts, I now think that old SQO-OSS is actually rather a cool idea, since it allows open source to demonstrate one of its key and unique properties: total transparency.

This makes the name of the new Alitheia core rather apt. Despite what others have inventively suggested, and drawing on the fact that two of the principal members of the SQO-OSS group comes from Greece, I suspect that the project's name, “Alitheia”, come “αληθεια”, the Greek word for “truth”. After all, the press release quoted above did say: “ the new application will analyse the product quality of open source software projects and assess the *true* potential of the development communities around them....”

Truly interesting.