Over time, open source software has shown remarkable success. Even large multinational commercial software producers have not been spared with its advantages. Infosys, IBM, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft recognize its influence and are aggressively adopting its methodologies. In addition, most IT-based service organizations are already fairly familiar with open source projects and often actively use them.
However, even now, the ubiquity of open source programs still raises more questions than answers. In this article, we will try to answer the most frequently asked ones.
What is open source software?
Let’s get into the time machine and travel back to 1997. Bruce Perens, a gifted Linux developer, creates a report to prepare and distribute the Debian Linux distribution. Later, he removed all the references to Debian and introduced the concept of Open Source Definition. The document’s key points stated that open source software should be shared without any royalties to developers. In addition, distribution companies are obliged to provide free access to the source code of the program to everyone. Moreover, updated software versions with all additional improvements should also be supplied under the same circumstances.
Contrary to popular belief, the open-source project is pretty close to the Free Software Movement, pioneered in 1983 by Richard Stallman. The free software movement’s goal was to share softwares free of charge, freeing it from the restrictions of massive software companies. The General Public License (GPL) governed free software distribution rules, which was approved in its third edition in October 2006.
Nowadays, various licences of Open Source Initiatives are used globally. Each of them has its own rules that are utilized by companies considering the use of open-source programs. These rules often do not include severe restrictions on who wants to switch to open source software. Regarding distribution requirements, they require special attention to avoid potential troubles concerning licensing violations.
Why open source software?
The first and foremost reason companies want to switch to open source software is straightforward – its price. And the return on investment of the open source model clearly signifies it. Most often, open source programs are free to download, install and use.
Initially, low cost and easy to find open source libraries attracted developers who wanted to try hands-on emerging tools or create new programs without investing any funds. Its freedom encouraged many to support the open source initiative. As a result, industrial-grade open source software such as the Apache Web server, the JBoss Java application server, Linux operating system, and the Eclipse development environment comes into being along with numerous other projects worldwide.
At the end of the 90s, open source software was finally recognized by business leaders. With a steady dip in IT budget, developers boasted the qualities and economic values of the open source software, and many big companies started seriously considering it for massive enterprise projects. Some of the leading IT companies that were first to incorporate open source software were Cendant Travel, The Weather Channel, Saber and Employease.
During the period of Internet emergence, open source software allows businesses to transform and scale up their electronic transactions without constantly buying new commercial software licenses. Other benefits also include development and testing. Thus, companies become free to try new software without thinking about the additional costs related to commercial softwares.
Probably, it’s not a secret that in practice, only a few people work on the source code in products distributed with open source. Firstly, it would seem that the right to modify and correct software code freely should be a serious advantage. However, in reality, organizations, instead of supporting softwares from their side, rely on the developer community to provide timely updates and debug the softwares.
Why to opt out of open source software
Problems associated with open source programs are usually easy to count on one hand:
- Getting free open source software is nothing less than giving away puppies for free. Companies are free to download and install it free of charge. However, training and user support can cost a fortune, much more than the overall cost of using commercial software. Microsoft loves this argument, which operates on an unconscious level. Whether this statement is true or not depends on various factors.
- Arranging technical support for open source projects can be tricky. At the inception of the open source movement, when a group of developers provided development and support, this was a real issue. However, even at that time, many organizations concluded that community support is enough to meet their needs. Modern open source projects from Hewlett-Packard and IBM removed all these discrepancies. As a result, the statement that “to strangle one throat is enough” loses its relevance.
- It takes time to find packages and develop new features compared to commercial software. In reality, a lot depends on the specific type of software. The Firefox browser is the perfect example of how quickly open software can be tailored according to users’ needs. Another prime example will be how instant the Linux developers organized dedicated support for emerging technologies, like the USB ports. This helped Linux, keeping up with Windows. However, when it comes to business software, updating them with the latest video card or audio chip is far less relevant than ensuring high performance and stability.
- The ambiguity of further branching and development. Numerous types of open source licenses and the ability of end-users to play with source code discourages large organizations from implementing such programs. However, a close look at the program’s licence by lawyers dispels most of those fears. In addition, many open source software companies even offer compensation for damages, so the open source applications you use may well be subject to legal regulations.
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