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Open Source Benefits: A Developer's Perspective


Open source benefits to businesses are pretty obvious, even if only recently recognized. It costs less, and often works better, than its commercial competitors. Developers have long preferred open source products to their commercial counterparts. In fact, this developer preference is why we are seeing the surge in enterprise open source usage. Why do developers prefer open source so strongly?

I want it yesterday!

Developers want to get stuff done. The thought of engaging in a procurement process is enough to sap the energy from almost any idea. We will just go back to reading hacker news instead of slogging our way through all that red tape.

Open source tools, on the other hand, are always close at hand. It takes almost no time from conception to actually writing code if you are using open source tools. Even better you can wait until you have something interesting to demo before you ask for forgiveness. With commercial offerings you almost always have to ask for permission, and we all know that is a sure fire way to get your pet project shut down.

Choice is important

Open source software suffers from the paradox of choice. There are often so many choices that it is a little paralyzing. On the other hand, the only thing worse than having too many choices is having too few. Faceless procurement processes practically guarantee that you will end up using a suboptimal tool. (This is not just a problem for developers; it happens any time someone other than the intended users chooses the tool.) Nobody wants to be stuck on a death march, and using a suboptional tool set is one way to make sure a project has problems.

The blow of so many open source choices is softened by the freedom to download several and give them a try in realistic situations. Deciding what tool to use based on check lists of features is very unsatisfying. Trying out different tools for a small project is a much better approach. This approach is devastatingly easy with open source. Just download the package and give it a shot. Commercial offerings, on the other hand, usually make this somewhat more difficult. You are likely not able to get a download and license without talking to a sales droid. Even if you are able to make it through the "lead generation" gauntlet, commercial products usually have steeper learning and setup curves because of their closed nature.

It's the information, stupid

This might be most important reason of all. The amount of information that is available for most open source projects is just mind boggling. No matter what problem you are having or question you are wondering about, someone has probably written a blog or mailing list post about it. The solution to even really esoteric problems are usually just a Google search away.

But wait, there's more... In the rare situations that Google is unable to answer your questions there are the mailing lists. The average open source mailing list is good enough to make you want to have its love child. The people subscribed know the product in and out, and they are always ready to talk about their baby. Give them an interesting problem to chew on and they will bend over backwards to find a solution.

Escape hatches are comforting

A final (for my list) benefit of open source to developers is the comfort of having access to the source code -- even if they never use it. Often you don't really want to have to read or modify the code of your tools, but having that option is very comforting. It means that if you run into some horrible bug, you can fix it. If you need to use the tool in some unanticipated way, you can modify it to work the way you need. If you want to use some poorly documented feature, you can always figure out how it works straight from the horses mouth. It is a lot harder to use tools that are opaque, and any tool that you don't have the source code for is a black box just waiting to soak up your valuable time.

What is you favorite benefit to using open source?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
Creative Commons License.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
Creative Commons License.


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