Topics on open source for college classes

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I’ve been asked several times for some ideas about topics on open source that would be suitable for one or more classes at universities. While I know there are curricula out there, here are some specific discussion areas that could be covered in computer science or business classes:

  • Open source vs. traditional software: What’s the same and what’s different?
  • Software business models: where does open source fit?
  • Open source licenses for the ICT professional
  • Building an open source community: it’s more than just coders
  • Innovating within an open community
  • Organizational governance of open source
  • Procurement: open source and traditional software, and services
  • Leadership models to maximize open innovation
  • Merit-based vs hierarchical software development leadership
  • Case studies of successful companies using open source


  1. I’ve taught classes on open source software several times as electives in the professional MS programs in software engineering and software management at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. Our students are [almost entirely] working professionals. I’ve tried to cover both technical and business aspects, and we have covered many of the topics that you have suggested, often using expert guest participants.

    However, I’ve also found one other element to be essential: hands-on experience with open source software. During the first weeks of the class, I assign all of the students to install and use various open source components on their Windows or Mac machines. In addition to the usual suspects, (, Firefox), I ask them to install MediaWiki, Drupal, and SugarCRM on the same infrastructure (usually Apache HTTP server, MySQL, and PHP). This exercise exposes some of the issues of configuration files and versions, though some of the students finesse this problem by downloading pre-integrated stacks. The other key take-away from this exercise is the discovery that all of this software works, and that there are viable alternatives to the proprietary software that they have been using.

    The next task is for them to use a Linux distro (typically Ubuntu) on their machine, either through virtualization (VirtualBox, of course) or natively through disk partitioning, and then to use all of the same open source apps in that enviroment. Lo and behold, they are then working entirely with open source software. At this point, the “seeing is believing” factor kicks in, and the students come away with the notion that open source solutions can be helpful to them and their companies.

    This approach has been highly effective for our students, many of whom have quickly been given responsibility for open source issues in their companies, often long before the class has ended.

  2. My book has been used in two college courses so far. It covers a number of the topics you list.

  3. A good course would cover the life-cycle of OS/2, from the moment that a manager committed resource to initiate its development, to the moment that it was withdrawn from marketing with the statement that “There is no IBM successor product, IBM recommends that IBM’s OS/2 customers should consider Linux”.

    The end point was a business inevitability. The start point was a business choice, too. In between was a mixture of computer science and business.

    But we know the history. And those who don’t learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

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