Open source software provides a number of opportunities to the world at-large to improve personal and commercial tasks. Instead of keeping everything under an in-house banner for development, open source software can be updated by anyone so that it can be improved. The benefits of such a system are clear when using Linux systems, the Firefox browser, or even word processing products like Open Office.
There may be many benefits to using or creating open source software, but there are some disadvantages that must be considered as well. Here is a look at some of the key points to consider.
What Are the Pros of Open Source Software?
1. There are rarely any licensing fees involved.
Open source software is a very cost effective method of being able to accomplish specific goals. Although there may be more internal costs to adapt a system to meet specific needs, there are no upfront costs generally involved and there aren’t any per user fees that must be paid with an ongoing relationship to the software.
2. It is incredibly easy to manage.
There aren’t any complicated procedures or licensing arrangements that must be verified in order to make changes to the open source software. Companies and individuals are able to quickly get into the code, make the tweaks that are required, and then continue using the product without worry. This means managing the relationship with this software is often a time saving venture.
3. It offers real-time improvements.
There’s no need to wait for updates to come with open source software. Anyone can get into the code and begin making improvements when bugs are found. This means the software is being improved in real-time by many people all at once, including those who are making changes to it for your own specific needs. Commercial software, on the other hand, may not get updated for over a year or more.
4. It provides for a higher level of independence.
You’re not tied to any specific contracts with the decision to use open source software. You get to use the product for as long as it is useful to you without needing to worry about what the providing company is doing. Open source software doesn’t even need to be updated if it is meeting specific needs that don’t evolve much over time. This creates a higher level of independence that traditional software packages are unable to provide.
5. People are able to continuously explore the code for new benefits.
There’s an incentive to have companies and individuals explore the coding behind open source software because better code equates to more money saved. Businesses can easily meet budget requirements by experimenting with small changes to the software without worrying about what a providing company might say or do. The costs of making these changes are dramatically reduced as well.
6. It can be used to disrupt existing commerce patterns.
Although anyone with a computer and an internet connection can create a global business today, that doesn’t mean they’ll be competitive when it comes to their business venture. Open source software is an easy way to become instantly competitive using provide coding that makes transactions or interactions easy to manage. In a way, it disrupts the traditional vendor patterns of the bigger players in an industry because anyone can prove a concept quickly.
7. It’s fun.
Whether you’ve got personal reasons for using open source software or you’re trying to turn a profit, there’s no denying the fact that the social component of code sharing is fun. It fosters collaboration, camaraderie, and creates a new network that can provide future opportunities never dreamed of before. When open source is on professional products, developers and employees can use the scripts they develop for work at future jobs or for personal use as well, effectively gaining three benefits for the price of one.
8. It is an industry standard.
For those who are dealing with infrastructure issues, only open source software has been available for more than a decade when it comes to database, O/S, and other platform level software. Only a rare few have been able to avoid this industry standard, but this is a definite advantage. It means almost every competitor to a business is going to be started with the same foundation to build their success upon.
9. There are many choices.
There are thousands of open source software options available today that cover virtually every industry. Almost everyone can find something that they can use.
What Are the Cons of Open Source Software?
1. It isn’t completely free of cost.
There are still going to be internal management costs that must be factored into the use of open source software. IT professionals will need to be monitoring the software to make sure it keeps functioning properly. There will be training costs for new employees and a one-time charge to existing employees so the new system can be learned. Any time changes are required to the software, another internal cost will happen. Those costs are cheaper than paying a provider for licenses and updates, but a cost nonetheless.
2. There is always a learning curve involved.
It takes time for everyone to learn a new software package. Even when open source items are similar to commercialized products, there are small changes to the coding that make the open source alternative a little different. This means there must be a period of time budgeted so that everyone can get onto the same page and learn how the new software differs from what they’re used to using on a regular basis.
3. It is very easy for people to become confused.
A good example of this would be to compare Microsoft Word to Open Office. On the surface, the two products are remarkably similar. The both create documents, spreadsheets, data visualization presentations, and other office products. Whereas the Microsoft products save files in one specific way, however, Open Office defaults to an open source file instead. If people are used to just clicking the “save” button, then they may save the wrong file and not even realize it.
4. It may create orphaned software.
What happens to open source software once it is determined to be not as useful as originally hoped? It often turns into orphaned software that just takes up space on a server somewhere. Although this isn’t necessarily a devastating disadvantage, over time enough open source software files that are orphaned can fragment storage capacities and make productivity more difficult to achieve.
5. You’re ultimately on your own when it comes to any problems.
There are usually third-party developers available for supports when there is a problem that can’t be solved internally, but there isn’t one central hub of support that can be contacted. This means you’ve either got to wait and hope that someone is willing to respond to your message of help or you’ve got to figure out the problem on your own. This also applies to any ongoing maintenance that may be required to keep the open source software up and running.
6. The quality for specific needs isn’t always there.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of open source software is that it usually isn’t created for a specific purpose. Proprietary software tends to have end goals in mind from the start of the code to its finish. Although from an overall perspective open source code tends to be better, the needs met are more generalized in nature.
7. Sometimes software is only open source in name only.
It is very easy to say that software is open source, but have it really be more like proprietary software. This happens when code is released, but only to a specific niche of a market or to a few like-minded companies. When this happens, there is a limited pool of contributors that can add to the coding, which ultimately limits the quality of the project from a long-term perspective.
8. It cuts off the originator’s revenue streams.
Proprietary software is an easy way to make money. Open source software is an easy way to create a reputation. One is often sacrificed for the other. Many use open source to create a reputation in order to make money from proprietary offerings, but consumers don’t always translate from the world of “free” to the world of “premium.” This means revenue streams can be cut off the instant the decision is made to be open source.
9. Every community is segmented.
The open source software community might be large, but it is highly segmented. Active communities are generally dedicated to subsegments or specific software and that can be problematic for some downloads.
Open source software helps everyone become instantly competitive, but it comes at the price of ongoing support. If you run into issues using open source software, you’re at the mercy of your own experience or the hope that someone can come along to help. It may be cheap and be solution-orientated, but there are disadvantages that may make it not be the best solution for everyone.