Why Open Source? Some Good Reasons. Especially the last one.
It is often said that open source software wins because it is cheaper.
However, the bigger factor in the success of open source software in industry has been performance.
Collaborative development projects have opened the door to much wider input than is the case in a closed development environment with subsequent improvements in price and performance. Open source reduces R&D costs, increases productivity, improves efficiency, facilitates interoperability and encourages innovation.
Here’s our top ten reasons to consider using open source in your business.
The most obvious benefit of free and open source software is cost. A Linux distribution such as Ubuntu is free to download, easy to install, easy to use, and easy to update, and comes without the complication of licensing issues.
A user can install as many instances of Ubuntu as he or she wishes, and can be confident that a Linux desktop will slot into existing networks without a fuss. Anti-virus software is not required, and there are no licenses required for OpenOffice, which can also be installed on Windows systems at zero cost.
The same applies to most open source software that is available to the enterprise. Databases, web servers and enterprise level applications can all be downloaded for free.
That most free and open source software has no purchase cost provides an obvious incentive for the adoption of open source software, but most companies are happy to pay for upkeep, maintenance, training and support if these services bring apparent reward.
This has been the model for most open source companies. A company that distributes free and open source software depends on the relative excellence of the support it provides for revenue, and has an incentive for ensuring the quality of its services.
Open source gives ISVs a host of advantages. Open source companies foster and benefit from their user and developer communities. A user with a particular concern or requirement can often gain access to the individual developer resulting in more rapid and responsive support, and if the support isn’t good enough, or you feel you have the internal resources to maintain the product yourself, you can always download the software free.
All the major hardware, mobile phone and chip manufacturers have not only contributed their ideas and software under the GPL and its variants, but have also actively participated in free software projects.
Open source software is adopted because it is reliable, resilient, and adaptable. Cost is not always the primary motive, but is significant. The telecommunication and finance sectors, for instance, have adopted Linux and other open source solutions on a large scale because of massive price/performance improvements over Unix and Windows.
The distributed nature of open source and free software development has encouraged good habits around the maintenance of the software, in that processes and discussions are recorded and archived, and some of the basic rules of software development – transparency, simplicity, modularity and portability – are a necessary adjunct for the project’s viability. Good habits engender good software, and good software becomes incrementally cheaper over time.
A project can only function because these precepts are followed, and the mechanisms that enable a free software project to happen, despite the geographical separation of the developers – the mailing lists, version control systems and bug tracker databases – also enforce good habits on the developers.
Use of such integrated systems, which are the norm for open source projects, reduces the inevitable overkill and duplication of code that commonly happens in commercial development environments.
No more upgrades
The PC is ubiquitous, and every desktop in every office, of every programmer, secretary, manager or filing clerk has a desktop running an office productivity suite. Each office suite on each desktop comes at a premium, with a word processor, a spreadsheet and a visual presentation tool, crammed with features that are never used, and demands an upgrade every other year to conform with the current data formats.
The content hasn’t changed. The functionality hasn’t changed. But the upgrade is essential to keep the cycle going. Linux and OpenOffice will run on lower spec PCs and fulfill the functionality required of 95 per cent of Office users. The imperatives for hardware upgrades associated with adopting Windows Vista and the latest edition of Office, for instance, are unknown to Linux users.
End single vendor dependence
Open source removes the need for dependence on single vendor solutions which tend to push up prices.
Open source is available in a large variety of flavours, will run on a greater variety of computer architectures than any other operating system, and is available on many different platforms from all the main hardware vendors.
Interoperability and open standards
Open standards for document formats and protocols are a first principle of open source software. Open standards provide a clean intersection between different implementations of software and hardware.
Interoperability, or the simple notion that computer systems should produce outputs in common formats which allow one computer to talk to another, has been a goal of computing since the beginning of the electronic era.
The purpose of open standards is to promote interoperability between different applications on different operating systems. The effect of proprietary data formats is to encourage reliance on single vendor applications and to discourage the implementation of competitive products.
Proprietary data formats give us no assurance of permanence or diversity, force dependence on the continuing popularity of a particular product, and are liable to alteration between different versions of the software. The user is locked into an involuntary upgrade cycle with an individual vendor, with few guarantees of consistency, and has little long term control over the viability of the data.
Open standards allow a user to be platform, vendor and software independent. Standards make networking possible, and make it easier to upgrade and move customised software solutions from one platform to another.
Access to technology at the source
Open source has also allowed and encouraged research and development laboratories in academia, public service and commercial industries to gain access to technologies that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive, which in turn has led to increased participation and feedback.
For instance, GNU/Linux and open source have led the field in clustering and virtualisation technologies, which were initially developed from academic research. (A side effect of this is that Linux has revived the market for the mainframe).
For similar reasons many smaller startups – as Google once was, for example – have based their operations on the use of free software. It is doubtful that Google would have been as successful as it has, had the company not been able to customise Linux and the Google filesystem on clustered servers to build its original search and storage algorithms.
For the company deciding to come over to Linux cost may be the initial motivation. Software is a tool, and not the final objective of the company. There is an over-riding interest in having software that “just works” at reasonable cost, and this is where GNU/Linux comes into its own.
Most advocates of free software would claim that freedom, “not as in beer, but as in spirit”, is the principle advantage and purpose of open source, and from this principle emerge all the other benefits of free software.
In the words of Richard Stallman “free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.” More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:
“The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.”