Squeak in IEEE Software

Mark Guzdial guzdial at cc.gatech.edu
Mon Feb 1 15:40:46 UTC 1999

You should see the critique of Open Source in IEEE Computer this month!
All the IEEE and ACM rags seem to be talking about Open Source this month.
Most of the articles are interested, some enthusiastic.  The Risks column
in "Communications of the ACM" is explicitly saying that distributing
source reduces risks, since you can find out exactly what the software is
doing. But Ted Lewis' column ("Binary Critic") in IEEE Computer basically
says "It'll all come crashing down real soon now."

Some of his arguments make assumptions that I don't think are valid, e.g.,
Linux won't survive because IS managers won't buy it. I am not sure that IS
managers control the majority of software purchases today.  But other of
Lewis' arguments are fascinating.

For example, he analyzes the reliability claims of Linux over commercial
UNIX.  He says that raw defect rates are not a valid indicator -- much more
interesting is "defect density": Defects per thousands of lines of code.
Commercial UNIX is typically around 10 million LOC, while Linux is 1.5
million.  If you consider defect density, the Linux reliability numbers are
really bad.  Lewis believes that as the programming tasks get more complex,
only commercial programmers will be able to put in the time and effort.  He
points out that between April and December of '98, the Mozilla mailing list
dropped 58%!  He generally claims that Microsoft is unbeatable in this

I wonder how much of his argument is related to architecture.  If you have
a good underlying architecture that supports decoupled development efforts,
can you go further with unpaid-but-enthusiastic programmers?  From what I
know of the literature, the data about errors per KLOC (thousands of lines
of code) is amazingly stable across projects and languages. But I don't
know how many of the studies have looked at truly O-O projects like Squeak
and Python.


Mark Guzdial : Georgia Tech : College of Computing : Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
(404) 894-5618 : Fax (404) 894-0673 : guzdial at cc.gatech.edu

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