In recent years, open source software has become more frequently used by businesses and individuals alike. Why is this, and what makes open source solutions so increasingly popular? Below I list five reasons why open source software can be good for your business.
The security of software used in your business is very important. It is used to protect, process and store your company’s intellectual property. By its nature open source software has the code it comprises of visible to all. This means large open source projects are frequently reviewed by the community, allowing security vulnerability to be spotted and resolved quickly and effectively. Compare this to proprietary software. With programs that do not have the code publicly available, you must rely upon the vendor to identify security issues. Not only that, but you must then trust that these problems will be resolved (and distributed) in a timely manner — a task which often rubs against the vendor’s motives for profit.
Open source software is frequently made by people that have a real drive and interest in the software they are working on. They strive to create quality software and work with others to do the same. Additionally, open source software tends to meet the needs of its users very well. This is sometimes due simply to good initial design. However, a lot of the quality present in open source software is the result of users participating in its design and development. This can be as simple as reporting bugs or suggesting features or can be as involved as having meetings regarding the program’s design or even digging into the code itself. With proprietary solutions, the need for a feature and the amount of time dedicated to its quality development is mostly the function of the vendor’s or their clients’ budget. Improvement in the quality of proprietary code is otherwise driven only by market competition/demand and public relations.
Many proprietary software packages will create lock-in for their users. This can be done by using custom protocols, undocumented file formats or otherwise not complying with established standards and best practices. This ensures users and companies that use the vendor’s software will be forced into upgrades, new versions and compatible software in order to continue accessing their data. Such vendors often dictate their own vision of their software which may conflict with your business practices or requirements. Additional hardware may also be required to run the latest and greatest version of their software package. Therefore, as a business, you may often be at the mercy of your proprietary software vendor(s). In contrast to this, open source systems allow users to be in control of many of these decisions. It allows them to do what they want with the software. Not only is the code available, but with any significant open source project, there is typically a large community of developers and users willing to help with this.
As open source projects generally have no need to use proprietary file formats, they are generally more compliant with official standards. This can make them more interoperable with other business software. Standard file formats and network protocols enable your company to integrate open source solutions into a variety of applications. This is much more possible than with proprietary software, which can often encumber businesses and cause their software environments/infrastructure to be restricted by interoperability constraints.
Proprietary solutions typically force end-users and business owners to incur expensive licensing fees, often per site or even per machine. With vendor lock-in in effect, this can result in a high initial outlay as well as potentially prohibiting growth of the company’s information technology resources. Open source solutions are typically free to use. They also allow you to metaphorically ‘try-before-you-buy’. A company can try out a possible solution with no worry of directly incurred costs. If the company is able and willing they are also able to make modifications to the open source software they use, in order to meet business requirements, rather than be at the mercy of their vendor to implement a required feature.
Of course, all this being said, your business should not necessarily use open source software for everything. However, with all the benefits open source solutions and its community can offer, it would be neglectful to not seriously consider use open source solutions in at your company.