FOSS Field Trip

For the FOSS field trip assignment, we were asked to visit SourceForge and choose a category. Although SourceForge has changed from what it once used to be (the repository of open source goodness) to more of one place among many (e.g., GitHub), it’s still a good place to find free and open source software. For the second half, we were to evaluate OpenMRS at Open Hub.

SourceForge

I immediately went to one of my favorite areas–Security and Utilities–and looked within the Cryptography Software sub-category. After all who doesn’t want to obfuscate data and store information from prying eyes?

Even though the overall number of projects in this area is smaller than most of the other main categories (e.g., Games) it still offers 220 projects in various status categories. Moreover, the top languages tend to represent those with more maturity: Java, C, C++, and Python. This benefits the applications themselves as well as the potential for possible contributors.

Surprisingly, many of the offerings were in beta or above status markings. This should reflect a set of robust applications. However, one should not rely completely on the project status. Let’s look at two offerings: Password Safe (Production/Stable) and RetroShare (Beta).

Password Safe has 3,319 weekly downloads at the time of this writing. Moreover, it has a fully functional and developed external Website with endorsements as well as a donate link. It has developed support (738 posts) and development discussion (943 posts) lists, an active feature and support ticket list. Password Safe is rated at 4.8 stars with 227 reviews.

Although RetroShare is in beta status it still has 928 weekly downloads. Unlike Password Safe, it does not have an external Website nor are there discussion lists. It does have a more active bug tracking list with 241 closed tickets and 149 open tickets. There are four active developers as opposed to Password Safe’s one maintainer suggesting that there are more bugs and features are still being added.

Even though Password Safe is listed as stable and RetroShare as beta, both have wiki announcements dating back to 2007. This suggests that more than status listings need to be considered when attempting to determine any application’s robustness and overall development complexity.

Finally, Password Safe’s code base is predominantly for Windows OS only. Windows users who want an open source password management program that has been vetted by experts might consider this application. Password Safe was started by Bruce Schneier and is endorsed (and sold) by Yubico and endorsed by the Open Source Initiative. Security professionals will be well aware of Schneier’s good reputation and Yubico’s track record. The project has a Linux beta client, so those who use the Linux OS need to be cautious when entrusting their information to this application.

Open Hub

OpenMRS has its own very developed website, but also can be found at Open Hub. One general comment about Open Hub: this site provides more granular data in a much easier to use interface than SourceForge. It is quite simple for users to learn more about the developers and robustness of a project on Open Hub.

The Project Summary page is an excellent snapshot of the project in terms of a description, code base, and detailed commit information. I plan on using this site as an introduction in classes as it enables students to see a quick snapshot as well as drill down into more detailed information such as how much each contributor has participated in the project.

Conclusion

Overall the field trip was a useful experience and one that I plan on using with my classes as well. The Open Hub site will make it easier to students to compare and contrast various projects. Adding the SourceForge project status definitions will add another layer of richness to their FOSS research.

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FOSS Field Trip

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