On the challenges of open-sourcing proprietary software projects

Gustavo Pinto, Igor Steinmacher, Luiz Felipe Dias, Marco Gerosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The open source software (OSS) movement has become widely recognized as an effective way to deliver software. Even big software companies, well-known for being restrictive when it comes to publishing their source code artifacts, have recently adopted open source initiatives and released for general use the source code of some of their most notable products. We conducted an exploratory study on merits of the widespread belief that open-sourcing a proprietary software project will attract external developers, like casual contributors, and therefore improve software quality (e.g., “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”). By examining the pre- and post-migration software history of eight active, popular, non-trivial proprietary projects that became open source, we characterize the phenomenon and identify some challenges. Contrary to what many believe, we found that only a few projects experienced a growth in newcomers, contributions, and popularity; furthermore, this growth does not last long. The results from the study can be useful for helping software companies to better understand the hidden challenges of open-sourcing their software projects to attract external developers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3221-3247
Number of pages27
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Community engagement
  • Open collaboration
  • Open source software
  • Popularity
  • Proprietary software

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


Dive into the research topics of 'On the challenges of open-sourcing proprietary software projects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this