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Open source developers provide 'glimmer of hope'

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An eminent software developer has claimed that the pressure to be first to market with new technology is leading to a decline in software quality, but that standards are higher in the open source world.

James Coplien, a software design expert who currently works as an object architect at US-based software company DAFCA, said in an interview at the ACCU conference in Oxford, that unless consumers start demanding better quality software, the software industry is unlikely to change.

"There's a pressure that unless you're one of the first three players in the market you don't have a chance," said Coplien. "Quality is suffering for time — people pay money for the first, not the best. It comes down to the fact that consumers are willing to put up with crap systems that crash all the time."

Coplien said the only area of the industry where people still take pride in the quality of the software they deliver is the open source community.

"The one glimmer of hope is the people who've said, 'Screw the industry, we're going to write excellent software and give it away', in other words, the open source movement," said Coplien. "I take off my hat to these people. Linux is one of the highest quality pieces of software out there."

There are various reasons why open source software is of better quality than proprietary software, according to Coplien. He claimed the collaborative effort of open source contributors, combined with a core group of developers, is the best way to build a secure IT system.

"Security is a system concern — it is a complex system," said Coplien. "How does nature deal with complex systems? Each cell does its own thing. The complementary, independent, selfless acts of thousands of individuals [in the open source community] can address system problems — there are thousands of people making the system stronger. If it was uncoordinated it wouldn't work, but there is a core of developers at the centre."

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