This page contains abstracts of open source research (both published and work in progress) by our project faculty members, Dr. Stephen K. Kwan and Dr. Joel West. Some of the papers are also available at the MIT Free/Open Source working paper repository.
Click on the paper title to get a PDF copy of the paper; click on the author’s name for more information on each author. Due to copyright restrictions, working paper versions are included for some papers; click where indicated to send an e-mail requesting a page image.
Dedrick, Jason and Joel West, An Exploratory Study into Open Source Platform Adoption, Proceedings of the 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, Hawaii (January 2004): 80265b. DOI: 10.1109/HICSS.2004.1265633
Abstract: There is a rich stream of research that studies technology adoption by individuals and organizations (Rogers, 1962; Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990; Cooper & Zmud, 1990). This research considers factors such as the nature of the technology, the organizational and environmental context in which adoption decisions are made, and the processes by which users adopt and implement new technologies.
Research on open source software has focused mainly on the motivations of open source programmers and the organization of open source projects (Kogut & Metiu, 2001; Lerner and Tirole, 2002; Benkler, 2002). Some researchers portray open source as an extension of the earlier open systems movement (West and Dedrick, 2001). While there has been some research on open-systems software adoption by corporate MIS organizations (Chau and Tam, 1997), the issue of open source adoption has received little attention.
We use a series of interviews with MIS managers to develop a grounded theory of open source platform adoption. We contrast this to prior academic and popular reports about the adoption of open source, and offer propositions for future research.
Kwan, Stephen K. and Joel West, “Heterogeneity of IT Importance: Implications for Enterprise IT Portfolio Management,” Academy of Management conference, Organizational Communication and Information Systems division, New Orleans, La., August 2004.
Abstract: Various models of strategic IT deployment (McFarlan et al 1983; Henderson & Venkatraman 1993) have explained how firms align IT applications to provide business value. Recent trends in IT spending raise questions about whether IT has largely become a commodity that no longer provides competitive advantage.
While prior models allow for variation between firms and over time, we believe that any analysis must also consider the intra-organizational heterogeneity of strategic importance for a firm’s IT investments. We present a framework for analyzing four different stages of IT importance: support, mission critical, strategic and laboratory. We show that enterprise IT portfolio management involves administering the lifecycle of applications, and shifting applications over time among the four stages to maintain alignment with their changing strategic importance.
We relate this to internal and external forces for change to the IT portfolio, and how these changes affect the allocation and investment of IT resources. We illustrate how the heterogeneity of IT importance influences the tradeoff in IT investment across features, risk and cost among the stages. Finally, we consider the implications of the framework for researching enterprise IT strategies over time, and for IT professionals allocating resources in managing their portfolios.
Kwan, Stephen K. and Joel West, “A Conceptual Model for Enterprise Adoption of Open Source Software.” In Sherrie Bolin, ed., The Standards Edge: Open Season, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Sheridan Books, 2005, pp. 274-301.
Abstract: While IT researchers have long focused on achieving strategic benefits provided by IT investments, recently some have claimed “IT doesn’t matter.” We believe that most large organizations have both highly strategic and highly commoditized IT investments, and that differences in the strategic importance of information systems help explain where firms will adopt new technologies. We develop a framework that considers the tradeoffs between features, risk, and cost in IT adoption, and show how it can be applied to explain the adoption of open source software in large firms. We discuss a planned survey to provide empirical support linking the framework to enterprise deployment of open source software.
O’Mahony, Siobhán and Joel West, “What makes a project open source? Migrating from organic to synthetic communities.” Academy of Management conference, Technology and Innovation Management division, Honolulu, August 2005.
Abstract: Research on the emergence of new technical innovations emphasizes the need for a community to interpret, support, extend and diffuse them. However, little attention has been paid to the actual process of building a technical community. Recently scholars have examined one type of technical community, open source software communities, that grow organically without direction from a single sponsor. Since the commercialization of open source software, many firms have adapted this model by building synthetic open source software communities which are often conflated with their organic counter parts. Thus, we argue that the term “open source project” no longer has shared meaning.
To better distinguish between sponsored and organic open source projects, we identify three dimensions that characterize such communities: 1) intellectual property rights; 2) software development approach and 3) community governance. Drawing on ongoing field research, we find that, when creating synthetic communities, there is a central tension between controlling the community process and product and creating and sustaining the pluralism necessary to foster legitimacy and market adoption. Thus, both sponsors and contributors to synthetic communities must weigh the benefits of control against the benefits that pluralism provides. We conclude with critical challenges that synthetic communities face in their creation, growth and governance that have been neglected in previous research on open source and technical communities.
West, Joel, “How Open is Open Enough? Melding Proprietary and Open Source Platform Strategies,” Research Policy 32, 7 (July 2003): 1259-1285. DOI: 10.1016/S0048-7333(03)00052-0 [request page image]
Abstract: Computer platforms provide an integrated architecture of hardware and software standards as a basis for developing complementary assets. The most successful platforms were owned by proprietary sponsors that controlled platform evolution and appropriated associated rewards.
Responding to the Internet and open source systems, three traditional vendors of proprietary platforms experimented with hybrid strategies which attempted to combine the advantages of open source software while retaining control and differentiation. Such hybrid standards strategies reflect the competing imperatives for adoption and appropriability, and suggest the conditions under which such strategies may be preferable to either the purely open or purely proprietary alternatives.
West, Joel and Jason Dedrick, Open Source Standardization: The Rise of Linux in the Network Era, Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 14, 2 (Summer 2001): 88-112. [request page image]
Abstract: To attract complementary assets, firms that sponsor proprietary de facto compatibility standards must trade off control of the standard against the imperative for adoption. For example, Microsoft and Intel in turn gained pervasive adoption of their technologies by appropriating only a single layer of the standards architecture and encouraging competition in other layers.
In reaction to such proprietary strategies, the open source movement relinquished control to maximize adoption. To illustrate this, we examine the rise of the Linux operating system from 1995-2001, particularly the motivations of organizational buyers and suppliers of complementary assets, and Microsoft’s reaction to its success.
West, Joel and Jason Dedrick, “The Effect of Computerization Movements Upon Organizational Adoption of Open Source,” Social Informatics Workshop: Extending the Contributions of Professor Rob Kling to the Analysis of Computerization Movements, Irvine, Calif., March 2005.
Abstract: The free and open source software (F/OSS) computing movements have argued that F/OSS projects lead to better software, freedom from vendor control, and social benefits by sharing software and its associated source code. While these movement grew out of the interests of programmers to write better software for their own purposes, the open source movement has focused on gaining widespread adoption of F/OSS by businesses and other organizations. This requires acceptance by IT organizations and professionals, whose views of F/OSS have been largely ignored in prior research.
We interviewed 21 IT professionals in 14 business and public sector organizations to uncover their views on F/OSS and the extent of adoption by their organizations. We find that most users do not value access to source code, and very few have ever modified source code even when they use open source software. Users are much more interested in the low cost of F/OSS, which the movement downplays, and there is no consensus about the relative quality of open source versus closed source software. The main point of agreement is on the importance of control and choice, and the freedom from vendor lock-in, that comes with F/OSS. Finally, we find that users are generally agnostic about the ideologies of the F/OSS movement, but that in some cases movement advocates act to encourage adoption within their organizations.
Abstract: Market selection of product compatibility standards has long been explained through aggregate positive-feedback theoretical models of economic utility. Explaining aggregate patterns of organizational standards adoption requires two additional steps — not only differences between organizations, but also differences within organizations.
Here we present a qualitative study of how organizations do (or do not) adopt a new computer server platform standard, namely Linux using PC-compatible hardware. While discussions of Linux typically focus on its open source origins, our respondents were primarily interested in low price. Despite this relative advantage in price, incumbent standards enjoyed other advantages identified by prior theory, namely network effects and switching costs.
We show when, how and why such incumbent advantages are overcome by a new standard. We find that Linux adoption within organizations began for uses with a comparatively limited scope of deployment, thus minimizing network effect and switching costs disadvantages. We identify four attributes of information systems that potentially limit the scope of deployment: few links of the system to organizational processes, special-purpose computer systems, new uses and replacement of obsolete systems. We also identify an organizational level variable — internal standardization — which increases scope of deployment and thus the attractiveness of the incumbent standard.
West, Joel and Scott Gallagher, “Open Innovation: The Paradox of Firm Investment in Open Source Software,” Western Academy of Management, Las Vegas, March 2005.
Abstract: We identify three fundamental challenges in applying the concept of “open innovation”: finding creative ways to exploit internal innovation, incorporating external innovation into internal development, and motivating outsiders to supply an ongoing stream of external innovations.
To illustrate these points, we show how firms use open source software to support innovation strategies. From this, we identify four approaches — pooled R&D, spinouts, selling complements and attracting donated complements — and discuss how they address the three key challenges of open innovation. From this, we offer suggestions as to how these principles can be applied to other industries, and directions for future research.
West, Joel and Scott Gallagher, “Challenges of Open Innovation: The Paradox of Firm Investment in Open Source Software,” R&D Management, 36, 3 (June 2006).
Abstract: Open innovation is a powerful framework encompassing the generation, capture, and employment of intellectual property at the firm level. We identify three fundamental challenges for firms in applying the concept of open innovation: finding creative ways to exploit internal innovation, incorporating external innovation into internal development, and motivating outsiders to supply an ongoing stream of external innovations. This latter challenge involves a paradox, why would firms spend money on R&D efforts if the results of these efforts are available to rival firms?
To explore these challenges, we examine the activity of firms in open source software to support their innovation strategies. Firms involved in open source software often make investments that will be shared with real and potential rivals. We identify four strategies firms employ — pooled R&D/product development, spinouts, selling complements and attracting donated complements — and discuss how they address the three key challenges of open innovation. We conclude with suggestions for how similar strategies may apply in other industries and offer some possible avenues for future research on open innovation.
West, Joel and Siobhán O’Mahony, “Contrasting Community Building in Sponsored and Community Founded Open Source Projects,” Proceedings of the 38th Annual Hawai‘i International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, Hawaii (January 2005): 196c. DOI: 10.1109/HICSS.2005.166
Abstract: Prior characterizations of open source projects have been based on the model of a community-founded project. More recently, a second model has emerged, where organizations spinout internally developed code to a public forum. Based on field work on open source projects, we compare the lifecycle differences between these two models. We identify problems unique to spinout projects, particularly in attracting and building an external community. We illustrate these issues with a feasibility analysis of a proposed open source project based on VistA, the primary healthcare information system of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This example illuminates the complexities of building a community after a code base has been developed and suggests that open source software can be used to transfer technology to the private sector.