Tech 101: What is Open Source Software?
The software landscape is diversifying. These days, most businesses will have a range of various solutions for different functions – and in many cases, there will be an Open Source option which does the job just as well as, if not better, a piece of regular, proprietary software.
One of the main reasons businesses of all sizes are adopting Open Source software is the way it makes it possible for the organisation to gain rapid access to innovation and to be able to compete on a level playing field.
What is Open Source?
As the name suggests, Open Source software is designed to give open access to its source code to anyone who wishes to use and edit it. This approach to programming builds on the concept of collaboration and contribution across entire developer communities, where users can work together to create a better end product for everyone.
Unlike traditional software, Open Source applications do not lock the user into an agreement where they rely on the vendor to provide updates and support. Instead, there is a transparent process that encourages continuous improvement, driven by real user requirements.
Open Source and Proprietary Software: Key differences
Open Source users are licensees, just like proprietary software users. The difference is that they have the right to copy, modify and share the source code to various degrees. Not all Open Source licenses are made equal, which means that there are different licence types depending on how the software was created. In some cases, developers using the licensed product or library to offer the source code to others must comply with a specific set of terms.
Although Open Source software is often positioned as a cost-effective alternative to its proprietary counterparts, it is far from free to deploy. There are many factors to consider when opting for Open Source; particularly when it comes to customising and maintaining the software over time. Whenever you need to adapt, repair or tailor the software to your business needs, someone will need to pay for the resource to do it – regardless of whether the software is open or closed. Also, with the landscape of Open Source constantly shifting, it may be difficult to anticipate the required time and cost of projects beforehand.
- Vendor relationship
There is of course a major difference in how we engage with software providers. For proprietary software, we are often used to having a direct connection with the vendor; typically for licensing, support and updates. We know what to expect from the product and will work with the vendor to get the best possible value from our implementation. For Open Source software, however, the scenario is entirely different. Businesses will often rely on internal developers or consultants to adapt the source code, without a central port of call for support needs or vendor SLAs.While vendors can choose to bring software to its end of life, forcing businesses to upgrade or migrate, Open Source users can also have code become unexpectedly unpublished – disrupting any applications that rely on it.
Although Open Source software has rapidly gained popularity for businesses as well as individuals, there is still some confusion around matters such as reliability, cost and usability. In this article, we will look at clarifying some of the most common misconceptions around Open Source.
It’s less supported
There is a general misconception that choosing Open Source software means your business will enjoy a lower level of support for technical issues. In reality, Open Source users simply take a different approach to support. Unlike proprietary software, there are no limits as to the level of support and maintenance that can be provided.
- Community-driven support
Open Source software is underpinned by a large user community which is continuously updated with fixes, tips, advice and answers to frequently asked questions – all free of charge and open for anyone to access. This is a great resource when running non-critical operations using Open Source software.
- Vendor support
Most Open Source software packages come with an optional level of paid support from a sponsoring vendor, who will take on the responsibility for maintaining the product and resolve issues as per a set support agreement. RedHat, for example, provide extensive support services for various Linux product packages.
- Tailored consultancy support
Organisations that use Open Source software for essential business functions often want a dedicated support resource. Having a consultant available on demand means the business can rely on not only maintaining services but also customising the software to their own particular requirements. Some providers, such as Open Office for example, list a range of specialist consultants on their website.
There is still a belief that Open Source is more vulnerable to cyber threats than proprietary software. Although there is a risk to incorporating Open Source software into a business, particularly without relevant threat analysis and monitoring, there is no evidence that it is any more susceptible to cyber-threat than closed software. In many ways an Open Source platform is in itself safer and more stable, since all users can view the code and address any vulnerabilities which may not have been spotted previously. Often the route from threat detection to security update is quicker, thanks to fixes being made without the developer having to go through the ranks for permission.
It’s not feature-rich
Another myth is that Open Source software is not being improved and enhanced to the same extent as proprietary software, due to it not being developed as a commercial product. The reality, however, is that there is a different dynamic at play when it comes to Open Source software. New features and add-ons are typically driven by the user community, based in genuine market requirements. Proprietary software, on the other hand, work to roadmaps that are often based on the vendor’s vision for the product and may not always be in tune with what the customers really want.
Here at One Beyond, we have had the benefit of working for a wide range of clients who want to profit from the fast-growing and unbounded features of Open Source in their business – be it a database management system or web content management framework. Regardless of your chosen software path, it’s critical to ensure you have a reliable partner standing by to ensure your business gets all the value it needs.
See our other posts in the Tech 101 series