Open Source Software: The Many Are Smarter Than the Few

Open source software (OSS) is growing on a global scale and having a significant impact on every aspect of information technology (IT). Open source use has doubled over the last five years, and it has reached an all-time high. Open source is now the basis for nearly all operating systems, apps, databases, cloud computing, big data, and more. In today’s IT world, open source products provide tremendous opportunities for both businesses and individual developers, outperforming proprietary software on cost, quality, security, reliability, and customization.

Open Source vs. Closed Source

[pullquote]The phrase “open source software” was first coined in 1997.[/pullquote]

Most software can be categorized according to license type, and the two common categories are proprietary software and free and open source software (FOSS). The principal difference between them is the granting of rights to make source code modifications.

Closed source, or proprietary, software typically does not license the rights to copy, share, or modify its source code. In this case, the source code, being the property of its original authors, is kept secret. Notable examples of widely used proprietary software include the Windows and Mac operating systems, Microsoft Office, Skype, iTunes, Google Earth, WinRAR, Adobe products, Oracle’s version of Java, and some versions of UNIX.

FOSS licensing, in contrast, grants anyone access to the source code and allows individuals to study it, alter it, and share it with others. FOSS licenses promote collaboration and the free exchange of ideas as a great way to learn from each other and multiply efforts to create beyond the capabilities of any one individual. Some examples of FOSS include the Linux kernel, GNOME Desktop, and Free Berkeley Software Distribution (FreeBSD).

It is important to notice, however, that some experts prefer to distinguish open source and free software concepts. The primary difference is one of philosophy: The free software community is a social movement that raises issues of ethics and freedom, while open source is a development methodology that emphasizes practical aspects only. In fact, the two terms describe almost the same category of software, as most OSS is also free software.

5×2 Advantages of Open Source Software

Over the last decade, open source has become the default base for software development and the engine of innovation for many companies around the globe. In many cases, FOSS has considerable advantages over proprietary competition, and price is not the only advantage such software holds.

Quality and Reliability

OSS is mostly well-designed, high-quality software. According to a report released by the Linux Foundation in partnership with Yeoman Technology Group, technical superiority (not cost!) is the primary reason enterprises choose OSS.

The 2015 Future of Open Source Survey by Black Duck Software shows that the lure of open source attracts top talent in the tech sector. While proprietary software is typically developed by a handful of specialists, FOSS is created by thousands of the most skillful and motivated developers.

What’s more, all OSS users gain access to the source code and debugging tools and therefore can investigate and fix bugs, suggest eventual improvements, and provide continuous product enhancements.

Security and Stability

Having analyzed input from a record-breaking 1,300 IT professionals, the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey shows that 55% of respondents believe open source delivers superior security, which is directly connected to the transparency of open source.

Due to its public accessibility to the entire worldwide community, the source code is exposed to extreme scrutiny. Bugs and vulnerabilities are located and fixed almost immediately, resulting in excellent product quality.

Adaptability and Customization

In contrast to proprietary software, OSS can be easily modified to suit particular business requirements and quickly adapted to changing market situations. Since the source code is open to everybody, business users can take it and add the functionality they need. According to the 2016 Future of Open Source Survey, year after year, the ability to fix and customize the source code remains among the top four reasons respondents vote for OSS.

Flexibility and Agility

Another compelling reason cited in the 2016 Future of Open Source Survey for using open source is its flexibility and freedom from vendor lock-in. Open source is not tied to any one individual vendor, and thus, it offers a wide range of options in the market. You can choose capabilities that match your specifications or create them yourself by modifying existing OSS. OSS allows businesses to compete on flexibility and agility, which is highly important to keeping ahead of the competition.

Community and Sharing

Open source supports the trend toward collaboration, building communities of people who are passionate about technology. Individual developers share experience and learn from others, while businesses benefit from a much larger R&D effort.

According to The Linux Foundation Collaborative Trends Report 2014, 83% of software developers benefitted personally from collaborative development, and 77% of business managers said such collaboration resulted in a shorter product development cycle and faster time to market.

The advantages of open source over proprietary options are expected to increase in the next two to three years. According to the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey, up to 80% of companies run part or all of their operations on open source, and OSS adoption is only poised to grow.