Read This Before Using Open Source Technology for Your Product Development
There is a rapid increase in the use of open source software among companies as it provides them with a faster way to develop applications at a low cost and add more value to their business. Big enterprises, right from financial companies to big eTailers, are leveraging the power and convenience of open source technologies.
While the open source technologies have revolutionized the tech industry, and there are compelling reasons to adopt those, there are also a few disadvantages of using open source technology. Let us take a look at those –
What is Open Source Software?
Open source software, in simple terms, is a software available with source code. It allows users and developers to modify the source code to make further enhancements to the program. In other words, open source is a non-proprietary, free software available to the public along with the source code to benefit the community of global users at large.
Developers can modify the source code based on their needs and choose to share the modified code with others. Linux Operating system, Mozilla Firefox, Apache Web Server, Ubuntu along with email servers such as PostFix and Qmail are some of the best examples of OSS.
How does Open Source work?
Open source software works pretty much the same as commercial or proprietary software, except that it is available for free. The core project team of the open source software include contributors who work on the project. They create stringent guidelines to follow along with a roadmap for future development.
Most of the projects use gating system and code review services such as Gerrit (web based code review tool) to make modifications to the source code. This allows the advanced users to make suitable changes to make it work more effectively for them.
Open Source V/S Proprietary Software
Let us understand some of the key differences between open source and proprietary software –
Open source software is freely available to the users along with the source code. On the other hand, proprietary software, also known as closed software, needs to be purchased from the vendor and is available, without the source code. For ex: Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office are the examples of proprietary software.
In open source, users can modify or make changes to the source code and install it on any operating system. Proprietary software is owned by the company and the code cannot be manipulated or distributed to others without their permission.
Open source software provides complete customization flexibility – you can even remove some features which are not required for your business needs. With proprietary software, this option doesn’t exist as there is limited customization which is possible.
Most companies using open source software have found tremendous improvement in the overall efficiency, speed, and security in their systems when compared to using a commercial or proprietary software.
Open source is found to be more secure as the issues can be quickly detected and resolved with the assistance available from the worldwide community of developers. Commercial software has a lock-in effect where the users can’t upgrade or make modifications and solely depend on the proprietor for correcting the defects.
Open source licenses are perpetual whereas; proprietary software might require ongoing renewal or purchase.
Top Advantages of Open Source Software
Open source software has immense benefit for companies who are operating on a low budget as it is available for free. According to some industry estimates, open source can save businesses $60 billion per year, when used collectively.
Ease of Customization
The source code can be easily modified to add more functionality and customized as per your business needs. This assures better quality and makes it more secure than commercial software as bugs can be fixed quickly.
There are a countless number of developers working and contributing to improving the quality of the open source software. This leads to the addition of more innovative features and enhancements to make the product technically superior and usable.
Freedom and Flexibility
Businesses who depend on open source software have an edge as they are not affected by vendor lock-ins, which has its own restrictions in terms of pricing, priorities, and requirements. On the other hand, they are free to take their own independent decisions regarding the usage of the software.
The cost of purchasing commercial software along with the associated costs related to virus protection, support costs, upgrade expenses etc. can go up and prove to be expensive for companies. Open source software offers better quality and security at a relatively less price which makes it a more lucrative option for businesses.
Open source software is free of cost and has a solid support of the worldwide community of users and developers. For example – Along with a very active online community of passionate developers, Linux also provides support in the form of documentation, mailing lists, newsgroups including live chat support options. There are also many paid support options offered along with open source software at prices which are far more economical as compared to proprietary software.
Types of Open Source Licenses
Contrary to common beliefs, Open source software also has certain licensing agreements. The kind of license for software products and programs enable the source code, blueprint, and the design to be changed under certain terms and conditions. Let us understand these various licensing options –
General Public License(GPL)
GNU or GPL is one of the most common types of open source license available for software products. It grants many rights and privileges to the users allowing them to legally copy, modify, or even distribute the software.
Lesser General Public License(LGPL)
This license provides lesser rights to work as compared to the standard GPL and is most suited for libraries that need to link using the non-GPL and proprietary software.
Apache and BSD licenses
The Apache license provides many rights to the users which can be used for both patents and copyrights. The rights on Apache license are granted without any fee or loyalty and they can be used forever.
BSD licenses, on the other hand, comprised of a cluster of free software licenses that have fewer restrictions on distribution when compared to GPL.
Risks Associated with Open Source Development (OSD)
While the advantages of using OSS are pretty obvious, there are also some risks associated with the adoption of these technologies. Let us understand these in depth
Most licenses in OSD comprise of clauses that protect users from being sued on grounds of patent infringement due to their use of software covered by the license. For ex: The Apache license mentions that every contributor to the license grants its users perpetual, worldwide and irrevocable rights to use the software. But with the widespread use of OSD, intellectual property risks related to patent infringement are on the rise which is a greater concern for many companies.
Open source software allows the source code to be modified and updated as per the needs of the user. But this very open nature can sometimes pose to be a security risk as anyone with the knowledge of coding can tweak the code, which makes it more vulnerable to the hacking community.
Lack of Accountability
Open source development solely relies on a community of users and developers so when support issues arise, the response time for solving a query or software error may be slow and result in delays.
The choice of which technology to use solely depends on the business objectives, budgets, and product requirements.
At InfoBeans, when our clients ask us for our advice on the choice of technology, we generally recommend them to go with the popular open source software systems with large community support which can provide the required support during the development.