These days, it’s possible to obtain open-source software for a huge range of applications. There are open-source word processors (like OpenOffice), open-source accounting programs and even open-source operating systems, like Linux and Ubuntu. Ubuntu, for example, is free, easy to install and comes with regular updates. Depending on your needs, open-source software may have several advantages over similar proprietary solutions.
Open-source versus closed-source software
Open-source software (OSS) is software for which the source code is readily available and licensed so that anyone is entitled to edit, modify and distribute it.
In the case of proprietary – or “closed- source” – software, a copyright holder has exclusive legal rights to the source code. Restrictions apply to the purpose for which the software can be used and to how and to whom it can be distributed. Sharing and public modification of the software are seldom permitted.
Benefits of open-source software
Many businesses opt for open-source software because of the following advantages:
- the software costs less than proprietary solutions; in fact it’s often free
- open-source software typically provides enhanced security
- using open-source software prevents vendor “lock in”; you’re free to use solutions from different sources and the software often runs on a wide range of platforms
- better code quality, due to multiple developers continually refining the code and sharing their innovations.
Using open-source platforms also reduces the threat of viruses, simply because less viruses are written to target them. An estimated 95% of viruses are made specifically for Windows computers.
One of the best features of open-source software is the availability of support from an active, worldwide community of developers and users. Depending on the software you’re using, you can generally expect fast, friendly responses to any questions you have, whether they relate to troubleshooting or simply using the software. Also, because the source code is readily available, any bugs that arise are quickly identified and fixed by developers.
It may seem counter-intuitive that cheap or even free software can be of similar or better quality than proprietary equivalents. However, allowing communities of developers to modify and continually refine the source code for software typically results in greater transparency, simplicity, modularity and portability. In contrast, bugs and errors in proprietary software often aren’t addressed until enough end users kick up a fuss. A study by Wired magazine found an average of 0.17 bugs per 1,000 lines of code in open-source software, compared to 20 to 30 bugs per 1,000 lines of code in proprietary software.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is dramatically lower with open-source software. Proprietary software may come with all the bells and whistles (many of which it’s likely you’ll never use), but open-source software tends to come as a stripped down package of “essentials”, meaning that you don’t require a supercomputer to run it. This, together with the easy availability of free technical support via the internet, can drastically reduce your TCO for software.
Distributors of open-source software typically focus on ensuring that it’s interoperable with a wide range of systems and will run on different platforms – including well-known proprietary systems. In contrast, many proprietary software products are designed to use proprietary data formats and to interoperate only with other products from the same company.
All the benefits of open-source software boil down to one major advantage – freedom. Freedom to run, copy, study, modify, study and distribute software all combine to make open-source software particularly attractive for end users.