How do free/open source developers pick their tools?: a Delphi study of the Debian project

Author(s): Martin F. Krafft, Klaas-Jan Stol, Brian Fitzgerald
Venue: International Conference of Software Engineering
Date: May 2016

Type of Experiement: Survey/Multi-Case Study
Sample Size: 21
Data Collection Method: Survey


This study seeks to investigate the psychology behind the choices of the growing amount of FOSS, Free and Open Source Software, programmers. More specifically, the study looks into the characteristics and factors that these developers use to adopt and use new tools.

This study was ran on maintainers and contributors to a large FOSS project called the Debian Project. Panelists were selected based on nominations and then a maximum diversity sampling of candidates based on their preferences of team participation, task variety, tool variety, and commitment to workflow improvement. The 21 chosen then participated in a several month long study of brainstorming influencing factors, creating categories based on common factors and discussing discrepancies, providing stories to highlight the most relevant ones, and then reducing the result.

The final results were 15 main influencing factors. They are sedimentation, marketing, peer percolation, elegance, resistance, first impressions, sustainability, quality documentation, compatibility, scalability/trialability, modularity/transparency, network effects, maturity, consensus, and standards/uniformity. Developers and maintainers seem to focus on documentation and wide spread use as well as ease of learning and using new products. These factors influenced a suggested multi-stage model for open-source innovation, and provide great insight into getting new tools introduced to the community.