June 30, 2020 |James Messi
The importance of open-source software
What is open-source software?
Open-source software refers to software in which the source code can be viewed, modified repackaged, and redistributed by anyone. Open-source software may or not be copyrighted but it is always available to the public. Programs designated as free and open-source software (FOSS) don’t have any licensing costs in order to use the source code for your own purposes. On the other hand, software that is designated as source available may require a licensing fee to be redistributed or it may not be reused at all. In that case, the source code is still made available to the public. Opening sourcing your software creates an open environment where everyone can provide collaborative input in order to advance a program’s development or overall capabilities.
What are the benefits of open-source software?
Open-sourcing your software and making it available to the public may seem risky in certain cases. For example, private companies generally prefer to keep all of their programmatic developments under wraps until they are ready to be released. But even for public and private enterprises alike, open-sourcing your code has many benefits that improve security, reliability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
Publicly available software is more secure
You can greatly enhance the security of your program by making the source code available to the public. As more developers are working with your source code, you will discover more bugs at a quicker pace. You also give a larger group of experienced developers the chance to inspect the code to see if there are any vulnerabilities that could negatively impact the project or the end-user of the software. With proprietary software, only the company that develops it knows what the code really contains. From the perspective of the end-user, proprietary software is riskier for this reason. Software that has been inspected by the public is much less likely to contain malicious code.
Open-source software is more reliable
The reliability of publicly available software is an extension of its security benefits. By allowing thousands of expert developers to inspect your source code, there is naturally a spike in the speed with which errors are discovered and solutions are implemented. This results in better continuity for the product and a more consistent experience for the end-user.
Free and public software is more flexible and cost-effective
Open-source software gives both individuals and businesses the flexibility to work with different parts of available code to modify it or incorporate it into their own project. This can greatly reduce the time, costs, and overall resources required to complete the development of a program. Especially for a private enterprise. This is unlike proprietary software that is available only in a restricted manner. It can be a very expensive time consuming to work around inefficiencies created by a third-party program that is not publicly available.
What are the drawbacks of open-source software?
While there are many benefits to using open-source software, there are also a few key disadvantages that need to be considered before incorporating FOSS into your project. The primary drawbacks of publicly available software result in programs that may be harder to work with. Additionally, FOSS generally lack professional support for the developers and end-users.
Lack of developer or user support
Unlike FOSS, commercial software providers offer professional support to the end-users of their products. If you’ve incorporated open-source software into your business there are still community chats that you can use to find solutions to issues. While the chat rooms are often a great place to troubleshoot issues with FOSS, they aren’t the most reliable method and no one is obligated to assist you in a timely manner.
Open-source may be harder to use
While this does not apply to all FOSS, most programs that are built in an open and free environment are geared towards developers and are often difficult for non-technical personnel to use. In these cases, using FOSS can result in added costs for employee training and may take more time to fully integrate into your business.
How to get started with FOSS
There are many FOSS libraries on the internet where you can freely access thousands of sets of source code. The largest online directories are:
The key takeaways are that FOSS can be difficult to work with since there is typically no professional support to back up the programs. They can also create issues for personnel that is not tech-savvy. In situations where those aspects are low impact, using FOSS is beneficial due to its added security, flexibility, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. All of these points should be carefully considered before including FOSS into your everyday business operations.