The Benefits of Open-Source Software
This article originally appeared in Volume 2, Issue 2 of <theScript> Quarterly digital magazine.
Open-source technology is gaining in popularity, and big technology companies are taking notice. In April alone, Microsoft announced its acquisition of open-source company Deis, Dell EMC released open-source storage updates, and even Facebook got on board with a new open-source user interface framework for the Android operating system.
What is open source?
A type of crowdsourcing, open source allows software developers to modify source code as they see fit. The idea is that anyone can improve the software to make it more useful and to reduce errors. It’s similar to the idea of Google Docs, which allows anyone who has access to a document to edit it in real time, and the changes are instantly saved.
How secure is open-source technology?
Since anyone with access to open-source code can make changes to it, there are concerns that using open source creates a door for hackers. That fear is unfounded. In fact, security is listed as one of the technology’s many benefits. What makes open source secure is the number of eyes looking at the code every day. Open-source Linux founder Linus Torvalds touted security as a benefit as early as 1991, and it came to be known as “Linus’s Law” when described in a book by Eric S. Raymond: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” Raymond wrote.
Other open-source proponents agree. By being exposed to a large community, open-source technology is continually perfected as soon as bugs or vulnerabilities are found, making it a steadily more robust and secure software option.
What are the benefits of open-source software?
According to research company IDC, four key elements make open-source technology appealing: speed of innovation, unmatched flexibility, affordability and greater enterprise acceptance. Other sources add security, community and reliability to the list. We’ve already talked about security, so let’s take a look at how these other benefits of open-source software can help your business.
Affordability and speed
Open-source licenses are free, so developers can obtain the software and get right to work. Once a developer is working on this software, it’s easy to move quickly. And with multiple developers working on the same project in real time, the end product can be produced that much faster.
Open source frees your business from contract lock-in. You get to pick and choose what technologies you want to use. If one doesn’t work according to your expectations, you can easily switch to an alternative.
Another benefit is the software’s dependability. Because each person who touches the code makes it better and more efficient, the software is highly reliable. If a problem does arise, the open-source community can quickly step in to correct the issue.
That leads us to another advantage of open-source software: the open-source community. Companies don’t have to rely on a single person or a small team for development with open-source technology. If someone is home sick or on vacation and a rush project comes up, another open-source developer can step right in and continue the creation process. This community is extremely passionate and accessible, and it provides myriad resources about development.
Another aspect of the open-source community is an easily accessible, skilled labor force if you need to ramp up production. Because the community is so large, it’s easy to find talent to meet your company demand. At the time of this writing, Drupal alone has more than 106,000 active contributors.
How open-source technology is being used
Let’s look at a sampling of the uses for open-source software. Government agencies apply this technology to create, automate and manage public and private clouds — with very little expense. In fact, NASA developed OpenStack open-source software for that very purpose. The education industry enlists open-source solutions for school management and to enhance the learning experience. Businesses rely on open-source technology to build and test software and to create websites. And that’s just the start. It can be used for much more.
If you’re ready to explore open source in more detail, it’s important to heed this caveat: When searching for open-source solutions, not all options are created equal. Be sure to choose those that have active users with high numbers of code revisions and regular social activity in the forums.