Site helps developers navigate open-source jungle

Ohloh compiles data on open-source projects, in an effort to help people find, compare software and choose the right one.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
Timid about diving into the oceanic waters of open-source projects?

A few former Microsoft employees have launched a Web site that evaluates open-source projects. The site, Ohloh, is not a reviews site, but instead a directory of open-source software, its co-founder said.

"We collect from the infrastructure the open-source community uses to develop the software," Ohloh co-founder and CEO Scott Collison told CNET News.com. "It also serves as an open-source directory. You can find open-source projects and compare them, and gradually find one that's right for you."

The site could appeal to developers who are frustrated by the number of open-source projects that lack clear explanations. Ohloh also seeks to help developers make a build vs. buy decision by offering code analysis, said Collison, who along with co-founder Jason Allen, previously worked at Microsoft.

"A developer thinks, hey, maybe I want to develop this kind of project. Our formula takes into account what it costs to write the code, collect the requirements, write the specs, write the code, test that code and deploy it," he said.

Ohloh's database, searchable by project name or keyword, results in a list of suggested software. Each project has a profile, beginning with a brief synopsis of what the software does.

While other open-source databases offer this to some degree, many times developers are left wondering about licensing, Collison said. Accordingly, Ohloh also lists the licenses held for the open-source project, as well as a link to the full text of each license. (The name Ohloh refers to a cry of enlightenment in Buddhism and also the name of the first surfboard in Hawaii.)

In addition, the directory offers information such as when the project was started, how many developers are actively working on it, the languages it uses, links to the project's home page and a breakdown of current activities. Charts on the open-source project show how many lines of code have been removed or added and by whom. For those really unfamiliar with the open-source community, the profile even includes linked explanations of each open-source evaluation term.

Ohloh has been working on the directory for two years and plans to formally launch it next week. In the meantime, it has quietly rolled out its database in public beta. The database will remain free with an ad-based business model, but Ohloh plans to add services for companies looking for analysis and evaluation of their own in-house projects.

The company's investors include the two co-founders and former Microsoft executives Paul Maritz and Pradeep Singh. Collison said he and others at the company hit upon the idea for Ohloh while working at Microsoft.

"We worked on the communications pillar of Vista and Web services. While doing that, we met with a lot of corporate customers who were interested in open-source products and concepts but asked, 'How do I get an idea of how the software was made?'" Collison said. "We got so many questions from people who wanted more visibility into open-source that we thought it was a great place to start."