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Why Open Source Makes Sense

written by Calvin Hendryx-Parker on Thursday May 12, 2011

An interesting reality of working for a company rooted in Open Source software is that while most people have heard of Open Source, many of them are still unaware of what that actually means and how it differs from proprietary commercial software. There are many advantages to using Open Source software vs. proprietary software, but here are some of the key differentiators.

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Security

Proprietary, closed source software tends use a security through obscurity stance which always will be defeated. The logic behind this is that while security issues exist, since no one sees the code, it is more difficult for people to find those issues.  This model has not been very successful.  Open Source software is developed with its code in the open and therefore receives scrutiny from many organizations.

Affordability

Due to its nature, Open Source and Free Software doesn't require expensive licenses or yearly subscriptions to allow you to utilize the software. You can focus more of your funds on the implementation of the features that matter to your organization, or customization to make the software meet specific needs.

Transparency

Open Source software is just that, open. You have the ability to examine the code without restrictions. Typically, most Open Source projects are also run in the open with full access to the bug trackers and documentation that make up the project.

Perpetuity

If a proprietary software vendor goes out of business or changes strategy, the end user doesn't typically have many options to move forward with their platform. Open Source allows for others to pick up the project and also for many other vendors to work with the project and provide enhancements and integrations for the community.

Interoperability

With full access to the code and the ability to make changes, you have full control over how you interact with the software and aren't the hostage of any specific vendor. You also gain the ability to extend the software and integrate more easily with your existing infrastructure.  Proprietary software protects their profits by limiting interoperability, while open source projects become and remain successful by supporting standards and working well with others.

Localization

Many Open Source software projects, such as Plone, provide localized versions of their software due to the global nature of Open Source. Many Open Source projects are set up to let you create your own localized version of software if one doesn't already exist. As developers localize software, they are encouraged to donate those localizations back to the project.  This means that unusual languages and dialects which would be difficult for a commercial software developer to financially justify building a new version for can be served through the efforts of a single developer.

One of the most interesting questions I hear from those interested in Open Source is "How do I start using it?"  In most cases, they already are.  Due to the widespread deployment of Open Source on the internet, 9 out of the 10 most reliable hosting platforms run Open Source software.

79% of web sites are served by Open Source, and Apache accounts for 59%

Open Source is also gaining traction in the mobile space. As of Jan 2011, Android (an Open Source OS) accounted for 31.2% of the smartphone market, passing RIM's Blackberry who had 42% of the market a year earlier.

There are a lot of terms and ideas involved in the open source world, and its not unusual to see companies pitching proprietary software try to exploit this lack of consistent marketing was a weakness.  But if you keep in mind the six principles of security, affordability, transparency, perpetuity, interoperability and localization, you'll see that Open Source is an idea that makes tremendous sense for developers and users alike.

 
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