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Rating System Will Evaluate Free Software

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Free software, despite the price, can be confusing and costly for corporations to use. A few freely distributed programs, like the Linux operating system and the Apache Web server, have become well known, but most are still unproved.

So companies often have to do their own testing and tweaking to see if such open-source programs - free software available for programmers to modify or enhance - work reliably. That obstacle has slowed the software's advance.

To address the problem, Carnegie Mellon University, Intel and SpikeSource, a company that supports and tests corporate open-source projects, have devised a rating system intended to reduce confusion and guesswork in evaluating such software. The initiative, Business Readiness Ratings, is to be announced today at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore.

The rating system, the sponsors say, will employ an open-source model with scores determined by those who use certain programs and contribute their judgments. The idea can be seen as a software version of the Zagat survey of restaurants - rankings determined by customers.

The rating system has 12 categories, including functionality, usability, quality, security, documentation and technical support. Each category is to be rated 1 to 5. There will also be filtering tools so a potential corporate user can specify its most important considerations.

The planned rating system will be described at, a site to be created Monday for the purpose of gathering comments.

"We've provided some leadership here, but this will live or die based on community acceptance and participation," said Anthony I. Wasserman, professor of software engineering at Carnegie Mellon University West at Moffett Field, Calif.

The rating system sounds promising, say some corporate users who have been told about it. Fidelity Investments, the big mutual fund company, has used open-source software for more than two years to build tailored software applications, and the testing process has been arduous.

"If there had been an initiative like this two years ago, we could have leapfrogged a lot of what we did," said Charlie Brenner, a senior vice president at Fidelity.

Companies want to spend their engineering time and money building useful software that can help them find customers, improve service and streamline purchasing, and not on evaluating software building blocks by themselves, said Kim Polese, chief executive of SpikeSource, a start-up firm in Redwood City, Calif.

The New York Times

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