You may have heard of the term open source but what does it actually mean and how can it help us as consumers? Open source is a type of software that allows everyone to access, modify and share the source code that’s used for operating programs/applications. Open source is not limited to licensing agreements and it offers public access so that anyone can be a contributor. A staggering 78% of companies run part or all of their operations on open source software. 66% of companies create software for customers built on open source and this is now predicted to grow to over 88% over the next couple of years.
As open source is so widely used in our society we wanted to take a closer look at how this structure benefits our businesses.
1. Increased Security
Open source software supplies an extra layer of security because it’s inclusive, giving everyone the opportunity to monitor and review code for accuracy, bugs and hacks. The more eyes that view code, the quicker you can catch errors and make the necessary changes and uphold quality source coding. This eliminates the waiting period and reliance on third party vendors to fix coding errors. Otherwise it could take eons (slightly exaggerated) for you to discover broken code and get in contact with your provider to locate and resolve the problem. Using open source also provides a sense of business transparency, exposing code to all parties and eliminating any secrets or doubts about bugs embedded in the code which holds businesses more accountable for these errors and increases consumer trust.
2. Customisation as Code is Available
Since code is made available to the public in real time everyone has the opportunity to make changes and view the source code at any given period. This is extremely handy when it’s time to edit the code or make last minute unexpected changes that arise, it also helps keep businesses stay up to date whilst ensuring consumers are informed. In addition, the open source community has established a collaborative online environment with many free and low cost resources that can help with customising and reviewing code. For example, reusing open source libraries and forking open source projects instead of starting from scratch or waiting on a third party to provide coding updates.
3. Cost Effective
Open source software is usually free or if not, it will generally be less expensive for businesses to use and maintain than closed software. That’s because businesses are not limited to one vendor for handling coding services and bound to licensing agreements. There are thousands of coding experts that can help customise, build and review software so why limit to one provider when you’re not even sure they’re doing a good job. Additional fees for support services, customisation and upgrades add up over time.
Also, it’s an opportunity for some companies to profit from open source by offering services such as technical support and coding classes as seen with Red Hat.
Open source is more Interoperable than closed source software which means that it’s more compatible with other users and computers and not limited to a structured format. Interoperability makes open source low maintenance for businesses with the ability to reach a larger number of consumers. Also, if compatibility issues do arise, changes can be easily made. With open source, businesses can share and build off one another’s codes that are compatible across the board, alleviating the burden of writing it from scratch themselves every time there is a new feature or change.
5. Enhances Quality and Competition
Most businesses want to thrive and brand themselves in their own unique way so that they can stand out from the crowd yet remain competitive and open source supplies the tools and freedom for Businesses to achieve this. The ability to have multiple software support options and not limited to one provider offers a wider selection for building software that resembles the desired messaging and function. This helps businesses reach consumers and craft their messaging without being restricted to the available options from a single provider. Customisation options foster more innovative ideas and increase quality amongst businesses as well as drive competition, since businesses can adopt similar methods used by others from public accessed codes.
Before we get too excited about proclaiming open source software the winner in the race against closed, we must take into account that companies either continue to be ill equipped to maintain open source software or lack the formal ‘best practise’ policies need for maintenance. A survey completed by BlackDuck found that:
- More than 55% of respondents said their company has no formal policy or procedure for open source use. Moreover, only 27% have a formal policy for employee contributions to open source software projects.
- A low 16% have an automated code approval process and less than 42% maintain an inventory of open source components.
- Only 1 in 3 companies have a full-time resource dedicated to open source projects.
- 50% of companies have NO formal policy for selecting and approving open source code.
Whilst I do believe that open source software is the engine for innovation (for the points mentioned above) there are still fundamental areas which companies offering open source software must improve on. On the positive side it’s fast becoming the preferred method for developing and we are seeing more major companies join the open source community, including heavy weights such as Apple and Walmart. Sidelining the negatives, its nice to know that businesses have finally seen the value in the open source software development however if managed poorly, it could end up hurting you in the future.