The open source software movement has sparked an incredibly rich community of collaborative software developers producing wave after wave of applications. What started as a lofty ideal has become the norm. As many as 93 percent of organizations use open source software and 78 percent run part or all of their operations on it, according to The Tenth Annual Future of Open Source Survey.
There are some very compelling reasons to adopt open source, but there are also some serious potential problems with it. We’re going to look at four of each its pros and cons.
Free or cheap
Finding an open source version of a proprietary software package that you’ve been paying for can be a real boon for companies. Operating without the need for expensive licenses can make all the difference, especially for a small business. Open source software saves companies an enormous sum every year.
Open source software is evolving all the time as developers fix bugs, make tweaks, and add to it. There’s a larger team of people engaged in improving it and anyone can take the initiative to improve the software.
Do what you want with it
Not only can you go ahead and install it on every machine without having to worry about licensing, you can also adapt it to your needs. You can go ahead and modify it if you want to.
Not locked in
You aren’t locked into a proprietary system with a vendor designing products which are only compatible with each other. That also frees you from the vendor’s roadmap, so you’re not waiting for them to add the functionality you need all the time. Because open source software is independent of individual companies, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the original founder goes out of business or drops it, as long as there’s an active community.
A lot of companies are initially attracted by the fact that open source software is free, but it’s important to factor in the cost of deploying and integrating the software. You’ll also have to consider ongoing maintenance and support costs.
Do you have the internal expertise to work effectively with your chosen open source product? You can’t necessarily find well-documented help or get support on the phone. Open source software often isn’t user friendly because that’s not a priority for the developers. It may be necessary to hire and train to fill the skills gap.
Risk of abandonment
If key programmers lose interest or no longer have time to work on the project, then it could be abandoned quite quickly. Open source projects do sometimes die out and if you’ve invested a lot into the software it could prove to be a serious problem if the updates stop.
You benefit from the software being open, but that means it’s open for others too. Malicious users can view the code and look for exploits and vulnerabilities. If companies don’t take the time to analyze the open source code for security vulnerabilities and take action to mitigate them, then it’s dangerous to assume it’s safe. Ignoring security risks could lead to serious exposure.
The potential benefits of the pros outweigh the risks of the cons, which is why open source software dominates the landscape. However, it’s important to analyze on a case-by-case basis and keep security in mind. Many companies also lack a formal policy for open source use and employee contributions. In many cases adopting open source will be a smart move, but make sure your strategy is fully thought out.