Startup Helps Assess Open-Source Projects

Ohloh, a startup founded by ex-Microsoft executives, helps prospective users of open-source projects choose which ones are right for their needs.

A Bellevue Wash., startup founded and funded by former Microsoft executives is expected to release a public beta version of a service that provides deep information about open-source projects, including license information and estimates of how much an open-source project could cost.

Ohloh is providing its service to help organizations choose the open-source software that best fits their needs. The company will launch and drop its public beta July 19.

The information in the Ohloh service enables "technical people to assess how the software was made by comparing data from one open-source project with hundreds of similar open-source projects," said Scott Collison, former director of platform strategy at Microsoft who is chief executive of Ohloh.

"We founded Ohloh because we recognized the difficulty developers have finding and evaluating open-source software when using existing search engines, directories and community sites that focus on open-source software," Collison said in a statement. "Ohlohs free service provides a depth of information and a level of rigor on open-source software that is unparalleled on the Web today."

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Indeed, Collison said, Ohloh differs from code analysis and license-hunting solutions such as Black Duck and Palamida, and from open-source software stack providers like SourceLabs and SpikeSource, or open-source tools library providers like OpenLogic.

"We are different from code analysis companies because not only do we look at the code, we look at other kinds of data," Collison said.

The "other kinds of data" include Source Control System Data, which "gives us a very accurate view of all the development activities that have occurred over the history of the project down to the level of the individual developer," he said.

Ohloh also looks at the popularity of the project. "We take data from the Web to ascertain just how frequently referenced the project is," Collison said. "And the service also checks comparative data. Because we collect data on thousands of open-source projects, you dont have to take our word for it; you can look at how an open-source software project compares with thousands of other projects."

Moreover, unlike SourceLabs and SpikeSource, "we are not the keepers of a stack," he said. "We are about providing transparency in how open-source software is made, how it compares with other open-source offerings, how it is supported and how it is received by others. In our view, one of the fundamental advantages of open-source software is the transparency into how it was made. We simply enhance that transparency by providing a place to view it and a context to understand it."

Collison said Ohloh differs from other repositories of information about open-source projects like SourceForge or SourceLabs SWiK. "SWiK is a wiki written by a handful of folks that describes open-source projects and screen scrapes sites like Freshmeat for additional subjective content," he said. "We provide hard, objective data collected from thousands of projects. Were just about the facts, no opinions—no subjective content."

In addition, Collison said Ohloh collects its hard project information from the projects source code and the source control system used by the projects development team; Ohloh constantly indexes open-source projects so the services users have the latest information available on the projects; and Ohloh provides a summary of how a projects metrics compare with other open-source projects. Ohloh also features enhanced search capabilities and automated data collection. Plus, the service indexes hundreds of open-source projects every week, Collison said.

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The Ohloh information service on open-source software is based entirely on open-source software, Collison said.

Though the initial version is a free service, "we will soon provide a paid service for people to collect information on proprietary software, so they can evaluate the software they develop, had developed for them, or from their internal development teams and outsourced teams," Collison said.

Collison and Jason Allen, a former development manager for XML Web Services at Microsoft and now vice president of engineering at Ohloh, co-founded the new company. Other former Microsoft executives involved in the startup include Paul Maritz, who served as a member of the executive committee and manager of the overall Microsoft company from 1986 to 2000. Maritz is an investor in the company, along with Pradeep Singh, who spent nine years at Microsoft in various management positions and left in 1994 to found Aditi Technologies, an Indian outsourcing company, Collison said.

Those four make up the primary investors in Ohloh. The name is taken from the name for the first surfboard in Hawaii, Collison said.

However, "unlike 1999 one can do a startup on very thin capital, and that is the way we are going about it," Collison said. "One would have to be insane these days to take a traditional Series A round [of venture capital funding] with the open-source software and outsourcing opportunities that are out there."

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