Open source software (OSS), unlike proprietary software, is software that keeps the code open so IT professionals can alter, improve, and distribute it. Although it has been around since relatively early in the history of computers, in the past several years OSS has truly taken off, in what some might see as a surprising example of a successful communal collaboration.
OSS can be used in any type of software, from word processing to cloud computing to EDI (electronic data interchange). Some of the most famous and ubiquitous pieces of software, such as Linux and Mozilla Firefox, are OSS, yet some people are still hesitant to use less well-known pieces of open-source software. If you're like most people, probably one of the following reasons is preventing you from using open source software. Below, we'll take a look at whether your reasons are right.
Reason 1: We Need Too Much Support
One of the biggest advantages of OSS is that as long as you have someone with the know-how, you can completely customize the software to your needs. Because of the monies saved on licensing fees, using OSS is beneficial even if you don't do any customization; however, if you do customize, you'll need someone on hand who knows how to use open source software.
In addition, most proprietary software includes free tech support from the company, while OSS companies charge for those services. But this fee is countered by the fact that the code is open source, making it easier for your IT team to learn how to use it.
Another reason that people think they need too much support while using OSS is that this type of software has a reputation for being relatively inaccessible to the average user. Unlike proprietary software, which is tested extensively for user-friendliness, OSS software is often written by and for computer professionals. Choosing your software wisely helps eliminate this potential issue.
Reason 2: It Infringes on Intellectual Property
You can negotiate with proprietary software companies about indemnification for intellectual property (IP) infringement, but that's not possible with OSS companies. Plus, the rules that govern IP for OSS are complex. However, you can counter this issue by purchasing indemnification insurance through a third-party vendor like OpenLogic. In either situation, reading the terms of the license helps mitigate the risk of committing IP infringement.
Reason 3: It Isn’t Reliable
Often without strong central management, the OSS community must identify and provide solutions for errors with the software. This leads some to worry that problems will not be fixed, as compared to traditional software, which has centralized management and a dedicated team of developers to fix any issues.
In reality, the opposite is true. Repeatedly, issues with OSS are quickly fixed thanks to the work of the community members, whereas with a proprietary software company, users need to wait for the release of the next software update to fix a bug.
Reason 4: It Isn’t Secure
This is perhaps the biggest misgiving that people express regarding OSS: Since the code is open, any opportunist can identify and exploit the program through hacking and viruses. Proprietary software companies, on the other hand, have team members dedicated to ensuring the security of their software.
Some risk is associated with using any software, and the overall risk associated with OSS is not higher than with any other type of software. While it's true that anyone can look at and potentially exploit the code, it's also true that anyone can look at the code to identify potential causes of security breaches and address them immediately. What's more, as long as someone is on your team who knows how to use open source software, you can examine the software before using it, and thus determine the level of risk associated with using it.
The concerns that people have about OSS are not completely unfounded, but each concern can be mitigated with an understanding of the software in question. In many cases, using this type of software helps companies save money while also getting a product that is better suited to their needs. Once your company learns how to use open source software - and how to mitigate some of the risks associated with it - you, like many others, may reap great benefits.