Advantages of Open Source Software
In my last blog post, I discussed the pressures and complexities that are faced by businesses due to the use of closed source software and that the answer may lie in the use of Open Source Software (OSS). This in turn would raise the question of the other advantages and the disadvantages of using this type of software.
Below, I have entered the different advantages of using OSS:
As many open source software are free, there is a scope for huge cost savings. This reason is one of the most cited reasons for using OSS (mainly for those who only look at the money factor) though much more important reasons are given below. So I kept this as the first point to get it out of the way.
Each OSS, once it becomes popular, gets reviewed by hundreds if not thousands of people who suggest changes to the software. These changes once incorporated by the main developer (after reviewing the changes), will help to increase its quality. The bugs or defects in the program are quickly found out by the people who give feedback and mostly a fix is also suggested.
Also if there is any doubt about any backdoors being created by any agency, it is quite simple to check the source code for them unlike only depending on assurances from the vendors that their software does not contain any backdoors.
But what about security? If a software is kept open for anyone to look at it, will not a smart person be able to find a bug and easily exploit it? Fair point but in order to explain let me use a metaphor. Imagine two buildings; one which is hidden somewhere in a remote village and another which is kept right in the middle of a busy city. This being equivalent to a closed source (whose code is hidden) and an open source software (whose code is seen by all and sundry). Now it would seem that the house in the middle of the city would be easy to break into rather than the house in the remote village.
But one should also remember that people are basically honest and hence the majority, by the sheer strength of numbers would be able to find out the weak points and work to strengthen it. This would then make the house in the city something like a Fort with missiles and lasers to prevent any malicious activity while allowing all beneficial activities.
What about the house in the remote city? Well those who want to cause harm would just have to decode/understand the working of the source code (No small feat I agree, though from the evidence of the multiple viruses created, it is not an impossible one) and then find the weak points which can be used to break into the house.
To illustrate its effectiveness against attacks; Servers are mainly the target of multiple attacks and to reduce the quantity and severity of the attacks, the dominant operating systems among all servers are UNIX-like open source distributions, such as those based on Linux and FreeBSD. Hence if the computer experts use them to prevent any malicious activity and losses, its best to follow them in their practice.
Freedom to Customize
If any business would like to change a core feature of the operating system, it is easy to tweak it (For those who know how to program). In the case of closed proprietary systems, if you try to do so, prepare to look out for lawyers at your doorstep ready to sue you.
Responsibility to the world at large
Instead of having nice visions and clauses stating that the business is responsible to the world at large and then giving something like 2% of revenues as "Corporate Social Responsibility", if the business itself works towards increasing the information and tools open for anyone to use, it benefits not only itself but also everyone else. Hence all its effort goes towards improving the world at large while benefitting itself.
Continuity of systems
A change which was forced upon all organizations at large was the change in the structure of Microsoft Office from 2003 to 2007 (From the menu interface to the ribbon interface). Everyone had to learn a new interface in order to continue to be productive. This change can keep occurring as long as someone else forces it upon us.
Another move which was forced on all organizations was the movement of Windows XP to Windows 7. This change was not only about a change in the operating systems but rather a change in the whole hardware itself as the new versions invariably require much higher resources to operate in order to be able to run the same tasks such as browsing the internet or running the same applications.
Suppose Microsoft follows the example of Adobe in supporting their software only from the cloud, then there will be a lot of policy changes required for businesses to allow their confidential documents to be edited on a system not controlled by them. This is only a hypothetical situation but it is very much possible in the future as the software vendor can then easily monitor the software sold and utilized by any business.
By the way, I use Microsoft Software as an example for closed source software as they are having one of the best support systems for users and the most user friendly among the closed source software vendors.
Simpler selection of systems based on needs
Consider two similar software being upgraded to the next version - one being open source and the other being closed source.
Invariably, it would be seen that the open source has only one upgrade path while the other would have multiple paths of upgradation. For example:- If you want MS Office, select between Home & Student Version, Home & Business Version and Professional Versions. If you want MS Windows then select between Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.
On the other hand, once the Open Source software has been selected one time, such as Linux Mint or LibreOffice, there is only one option to upgrade to and this would include almost all features anyone would require. This major difference is simply due to the way they operate. Closed Source software businesses, require to collect the maximum revenue from all segments of the population. Hence after creating one software, they keep cutting out the features to create the different editions. On the other hand this does not make much sense to Open Source software companies as they get paid primarily only for support and not for creating more complexity such as different editions. Hence they create only one edition of the software.
Software created by passionate people
Most of the Open Source software is created and maintained by people all over the world who work on it due to their passion and not because the work has been hoisted on them. When you have a bunch of passionate people to develop anything the outcome is nothing short of incredible.
The level of support on online documentation, forums, wikis, mailing lists, etc. are very high and free. If extra support is required, there are paid support options where the OSS creators get their revenue.
Freedom from external audits
When a business buys a Closed Source software, they have to sign an agreement, which gives the software vendor the right to check their systems for extra licenses which have not been bought.
So if a business buys, say 1000 licenses all over the country and the audit finds that the different regions have used 1500 licenses, there can be a huge penalty which will have to be paid.
These kind of external monitoring is not present for the OSS which are generally free to use.
Watch this space for my third and concluding post in this series.