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Modular Design and the Development of Complex Artifacts: Lessons from Free/Open Source Software

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  • Alessandro Narduzzo
  • Alessandro Rossi

Abstract

Software design and development in Free/Open Source projects are analyzed through the lens of the theory of modularity applied to complex systems. Both the architecture of the artifacts (software) and the organization of the projects benefited from the paradign of modularity, in an original and effective manner. Our study shows that three main routines, or shortcuts, emerged and were effectively applied. First, some successful projects inherited previously existing modular architecture, rather than designing new modular systems from scratch. Second, popular modular systems, like GNU/Linux kernel, evolved from an initial integrated structure through a process of evolutionary adaptation. Third, development of modular software took advantage from the violation of one fundamental rule of modularity, that is information hiding. Implications and extensions of Free/Open Source projects' experience are discussed in the conclusions.

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandro Narduzzo & Alessandro Rossi, 2003. "Modular Design and the Development of Complex Artifacts: Lessons from Free/Open Source Software," ROCK Working Papers 021, Department of Computer and Management Sciences, University of Trento, Italy, revised 12 Jun 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:trt:rockwp:021
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Josh Lerner & Jean Triole, 2000. "The Simple Economics of Open Source," NBER Working Papers 7600, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Richard N. Langlois, 2002. "Modularity in Technology and Organization," Chapters,in: Entrepreneurship and the Firm, chapter 2 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Egon Franck & Carola Jungwirth, 2002. "Reconciling investors and donators - The governance structure of open source," Working Papers 0008, University of Zurich, Institute for Strategy and Business Economics (ISU).
    4. Brusoni, Stefano & Prencipe, Andrea, 2001. "Unpacking the Black Box of Modularity: Technologies, Products and Organizations," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(1), pages 179-205, March.
    5. Bonaccorsi, Andrea & Rossi, Cristina, 2003. "Why Open Source software can succeed," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(7), pages 1243-1258, July.
    6. Bruce Kogut & Anca Metiu, 2001. "Open-Source Software Development and Distributed Innovation," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 248-264, Summer.
    7. Langlois, Richard N. & Robertson, Paul L., 1992. "Networks and innovation in a modular system: Lessons from the microcomputer and stereo component industries," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 21(4), pages 297-313, August.
    8. von Hippel, Eric, 1990. "Task partitioning: An innovation process variable," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 407-418, October.
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