Pros and Cons of Open Source Software
Let’s start by defining what open source software (“OSS”) is. OSS is a type of software for which the original source code is readily available for use, redistribution and modification. This source code can be (voluntarily) modified by programmers to change various aspects of the application. For example, if a feature of an application is not working correctly, a programmer can alter the source code to fix this issue. Programmers may also add features to OSS by altering its source code. The addition of these features may either fix or enhance aspects of the application. Programmers just need to agree to terms of a license (which tend to be nonrestrictive for OSS) before making these changes and redistributing the software. For many new and small businesses, having the capability to access free software programs may help in accelerating them.
So, what’s the difference between OSS and proprietary commercial software? It’s pretty simple – the source code for proprietary commercial software is usually highly confidential, meaning that not just anyone can view or make changes to it.
Pros of OSS:
OSS is generally less costly than a proprietary program. With OSS, businesses which are not sure exactly what they are looking for in an application are able to test out different software without the financial commitment that can come along with proprietary programs. Additionally, extra costs such as licensing fees and subscription fees can be avoided when OSS is selected. Rather than jumping right into a proprietary program, businesses with financial limitations may find this option to be a better fit.
The group of developers who designed the OSS are available for assistance with any issue one may have. Also, because the source code in OSS is available to the public, this type of software is always being improved. Even those who did not take part in creating the open source software have the ability to alter it.
Additionally, you can make your own changes to OSS which meet the specific needs of your company. Many businesses choose to outsource this type of customization. For example, if you find an OSS that fits most of your needs, but there are a few features missing which would be beneficial, then you could hire someone to implement these missing features to the OSS.
Cons of OSS:
Although there is a community of programmers constantly working on OSS which may be able to help solve technical issues, there is no dedicated, reliable technical support group for OSS. In other words, nobody is getting paid to help you solve issues with OSS. If your client or employee is suffering from a bug and you or the OSS community does not know how to solve it, you may end up having to hire externally to resolve the issue. This, of course, will cost money that you likely did not anticipate spending. Proprietary commercial software, on the other hand, tends to come along with dedicated support from the developers of this software. Because this support team created the software, they are extremely knowledgeable and always ensure that it is working properly.
Another reason why OSS is unreliable is because of the lack of security involved. Programmers working on the software cannot necessarily be trusted, and could have malicious intentions for all you know. This could potentially lead to the incorporation of malware into the software. There is also potential for “orphan software”, which is discontinued work on open source software due to a programmer losing interest or abandoning the software for any reason.
Not as User-Friendly as Commercial Software
Although this does not apply to all OSS, it is often true. OSS has a reputation for being geared toward programmers rather than end users. And because OSS is constantly being modified and enhanced, users can be confused by these updates or even be unsure which version of an application they should be using to begin with. This lack of user-friendliness can negatively impact a company’s competitive advantage, as other companies may have proprietary software that is more attractive to end-users.
Those users who are not technologically savvy or are otherwise just confused by OSS updates may require special training. Some companies may even need to go so far as to make modifications to the GUI (Graphical User Interface) and integrate it with the back end which can be costly, require external support, and therefore can counteract the affordability aspect of OSS.
The practicality of OSS depends on a company’s specific requirements. While OSS may be the best fit for some companies, proprietary commercial software is a better fit for others. If you would like to discuss the implementation of either of these options for your company, contact us today to be connected with an experienced consultant.