Quality Improvement in Volunteer Free and Open Source Software Projects: Exploring the Impact of Release Management

  • Martin Michlmayr, University of Cambridge


Free and open source software has had a major impact on the computer industry since the late 1990s and has changed the way software is perceived, developed and deployed in many areas. Free and open source software, or FOSS, is typically developed in a collaborative fashion and the majority of contributors are volunteers. Even though this collaborative form of development has produced a significant body of software, the development process is often described as unstructured and unorganized. This dissertation studies the FOSS phenomenon from a quality perspective and investigates where improvements to the development process are possible. In particular, the focus is on release management since this is concerned with the delivery of a high quality product to end-users.

This research has identified considerable interest amongst the FOSS community in a novel release management strategy, time based releases. In contrast to traditional development which is feature-driven, time based releases use time rather than features as the criterion for the creation of a new release. Releases are made after a specific interval, and new features that have been completed and sufficiently tested since the last release are included in the new version.

This dissertation explores why, and under which circumstances, the time based release strategy is a viable alternative to feature-driven development and discusses factors that influence a successful implementation of this release strategy. It is argued that this release strategy acts as a coordination mechanism in large volunteer projects that are geographically dispersed. The time based release strategy allows a more controlled development and release process in projects which have little control of their contributors and therefore contributes to the quality of the output.