Open source software is increasingly becoming popular with businesses and individuals in this ever-changing world we live in. However, the average Joe probably is not aware of it and as such there is need to establish some knowledge as to what is open source and how it works. This will then help shed light on why open source software is one of the best things that has ever happened to this information age.
The term open source in “open source software” is often used to refer to anything that can be publicly modified in design by anyone. More like a public secret! Originally the term was widely used in computer software development. From the most basic perspective, open source refers to a project, an initiative or a product that is open in it’s exchange , participation, prototyping, transparency and community development amongst other things.
Open source software is software that has a publicly accessible source code for enhancement or modification. Source code is that part of any software that programmers can use to modify how software works. This means with the source code, any programmer in the world can make changes and improvements to the software, which may include, fixing bugs or adding features and so on.
In the world today there are two basic types of software in existence, open source and proprietary software. Proprietary software is one whose source code can only be modified by the individual, team or the organisation that created the software. In such cases the organisation has exclusive control over the software’s code. Open source on the other hand has it’s authors releasing the source code of the software to the public which allows anyone to copy it, learn from it and even make changes to it. So the whole idea behind open source is that everyone willing should be able to modify the code at any time to suit their needs and at the same time should share with others.
The main reason why the use of open source is on the rise is the fact that it gives less legal strains and gives more control to the users. Users are able to examine the code to make sure it’s not manipulating their machines or make changes at will. Others have found open source likable because it is a learning tool that can enhance a programmer in their work. As a programmer, you can learn how to make better software from studying what others have written and you can also share your finding and modifications with others. So this opens up a wide range of possibilities as to what the programmer can learn from other programmers. One thing that makes open source software stand out is how it is upgraded. Because anyone can modify the software, errors are fixed as soon as they are noted which cuts out the process of trying to get permission to work on the software from the original authors. The solutions can also be shared to the whole community which makes upgrades faster.
Open source software is technically not something that is free of charge. Programmers can charge money for the software they create but usually they don’t because once they sell they are “supposed” to reveal the source code. So in practice programmers in turn just charge for services and support on the software rather than to actually sell it. That is how open source manages to be free of charge.
So Why Open Source?
The increase in the number of people and organisations that are now using open source software is a clear indication that price is not the only advantage that open source provides. Open source holds many advantages to the user that are actually more valuable than the zero cost pricetag. There is a significant number of businesses that switched to open source during recession times and haven’t changed back to proprietary software since. Here are some of the top reasons why open source software is the best thing since sliced bread:
Quality – By default open source has better chances of having greater quality than proprietary software mainly because it is developed by a community of programmers who are users themselves and are most likely to know what they want from the software as opposed to a small group of developers. Because of the number of developers working on open source and improving the security and the functionality, there are many new features and enhancements that are likely to spring out of open source software. So in the long run, the development of open source will always be closer to what the user need as opposed to what the developer thinks the user needs. The high level of quality is achieved because the users can have a hand in the development of the software. As a result users end up making what they want and usually they ensure that it is of high quality as they are the ones that will use it at the end of the day. Studies over the years have shown that most enterprises would choose open source because it gives them technical superiority and freedom in addition to the quality.
Customization – Along the same lines of quality you find that with open source, as a user you are able to tweak open source and customize it to suit your needs. Since the code is open you are able to simply add a certain functionality and you are able to utilize the software the way you want to. For those that might not be familiar with programming, open source has the whole world’s programmers as it’s community and chances are someone has tweaked the software to function the way you want or at least something close to it. This is not at all possible with proprietary software.
Freedom – As mentioned as a part of the high quality of the open source software, there is a high degree of freedom in it’s use. As an individual or even for businesses, choosing open source will free you from much of the conflicts that usually arise between the vendor and the user. When you use proprietary software you are limited to the vendor’s requirements in use,vision, prices, priorities and so on. As a customer you are always at the mercy of the vendor because legally the license is designed in a way that protects the vendor. This creates a problem and it will come as good news that with open source, there are no legal issues in that area to worry about. With open source you are legally and technically free in your use of the software. You are able to make decisions that directly affect your use of the software and you have a world wide community of developers to assist you with your software.
Flexibility – One of the most limiting factors of proprietary software is that you always have to upgrade to the latest version, which becomes a treadmill of costs money as you ride it. Open source is very low on it’s resource demands. This gives you financial flexibility as you are not always pushed out of your budget to upgrade your hardware or software packages. Again open source is always being upgraded which means you get many free upgrades which are timely and effective to your software use.
Interactions – Open source is by far a good option for businesses in term of adhering to open standards. As a business that values interoperability with other businesses , computers or individuals open source doesn’t limit you to data formats and so on. This allows you to always be on the same page with those you interact in your day to day business.
Audibility – There is nothing that is more fulfilling to the user than knowing all aspects of the software they are using. Because the source code is open, you are able to view and analyse the functionality of the software. This means you are able to understand what exactly the software does on your machine and which will also help address some privacy concerns that users might have. This is way better than trusting a vendor who just gives you their word that they are maintaining high levels of security of the software and adhering to standards.
Technical Support – As mentioned above the software is backed up by the world as a community of developers. This means the assistance that you as a user get from this community will be effective, although not guaranteed. Most open source software have online support communities where users interact and assist each other with issues and share knowledge. These online communities are often well documented and most of them have forums, mailing lists, wikis, newsgroups as well as live chat support for more advanced sites. Recently , there are developers who have come up with paid assistance which is aimed at those businesses that want direct and improved assistance. The prices are fairly low and the developers tend to be very responsive as this has become a source of income for them.
Cost – It wouldn’t be doing open source justice if there wasn’t any mention of cost. There are no support charges unless you choose to use this option and as well you don’t have to constantly incur upgrading expenses.
Continuity – The sad truth about proprietary software is that if the company decides to stop operating today, that will be the end of the software as well. Sometimes a company may just decide to discontinue services for a certain software (Think Google Reader!) and this mean the support goes as well as the future of the software as a whole. This is not the case with open source. With open source software, no one really the owns the software so the software is able to be in existence for as long as the users want. Any user can take up it’s development and upgrade it for the whole community and so on.
Development – One of the major advantages as highlighted above is the rate at which problems in the software are fixed. The source code is allowed to be redistributed which means many people will actually gain access to it, which encourages constant development.
Open software is becoming more and more popular. It is a comprehensive way for businesses, programmers and individual to achieve more through software. The openness of the software allows businesses to have greater confidence in the software they are using. More and more programmers are able to improve their skills and knowledge through sharing with other users. More user oriented software has been produced because of open source software and this is one benefit for the end user. The community also allows the users to understand and learn about the use of their software.
So is open source software the right choice for you?
Well that is a question that can only be answered on a personal level but one thing is for sure, judging from the above, open software definitely the best thing that has happened since sliced bread!!