What Are the Pros and Cons of Open Source Software?

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According to Dana Crane, Product Marketer and Product Manager of ActiveState, “open source has become the de facto way we build software applications.” Even if it’s go-to, that doesn’t mean open source isn’t without problems. The following offers an overview of open-source software and highlights some of the pros and cons.

The Basics of Open Source

Open source can be good for developers, but also users. Open source means that there’s source code available to users and anyone who wants access to it. It’s possible to take the source code, make changes, and distribute your own versions. You can also distribute as many copies of the original as you’d like to. There aren’t restrictions on the use of the software, it can be used for any purpose, and there aren’t licensing fees.

The Open Source Initiative was launched in 1998, and it’s a nonprofit, worldwide organization. It has set 10 criteria for open-source software, including source code availability and integrity.

The licensing for open source software will let programmers take the software and make changes, but with conditions. A few of the most popular licenses include the MIT License, the GNU General Public License, and the Apache License 2.0. When you change the source code, you are required to include how you changed it and the methods you used.

The difference between open source software commercial software is that commercial software is closed to protect someone’s intellectual property. With open-source software, it’s viewed as a collaborative effort.

For developers, it’s possible to take the source code and customize it to your needs or the needs of your clients. Linux, Android, and Chrome are examples of open-source software. Windows, on the other hand, is closed-source software. Other examples of open-source software include Thunderbird, PHP, and the Python programming language.

Developers can charge for copies of open source software if they want.

The reason open source software became such a movement is because it’s practical for businesses.

There was a time when open-source software was referred to as free software. That didn’t mean that it was free of charge, but it’s was more of a reference to the ethical and moral implications of open-source software. Now, there has been a push to highlight the practicality of this type of software as opposed to morality, so it’s gone from free to open source mostly.

What Are the Pros of Open Source Software?

There are plenty of good things with open-source software. For developers, open-source lets them utilize the resources of the biggest names to create their own custom software. Developers can work on communication tools, different revision control systems, bug trackers, and debugging with open-source software.

Developers gain a sense of freedom with open source software, and for businesses or organizations, it lets them create what they need. You can tailor the software to your exact specifications.

Open source is cost-effective, and the solutions themselves are often free, although some plugins or third-party solutions may be needed for them to work.

Open source is always being improved upon, and there are communities that form around the software, creating robust opportunities for troubleshooting or updating. Features are constantly being added, and there aren’t the slowdowns that can occur when you need permission to make the improvements.

What Are the Cons of Open Source Software?

Of course, nothing is without downsides that need to be weighed, and open-source software isn’t an exception.

First, there can be ongoing costs related to maintenance and support with open source options. These costs may be higher than with products that come from a vendor. The upfront costs are lower, but will that ultimately balance out over time?

Open source can take longer to learn, and even if you start a project and there’s a big community surround it, that might not always be the case. This would cause you to lose your support resources, and you would then be responsible for updates. Additionally, with vendor-released commercial software, you know that there’s always going to be ongoing support and troubleshooting available, whereas with open source no one has to help you.

Finally, if you’re a developer, you’re going to have to do more of the work too. You can’t release something until it’s ready because everyone is going to see if you did something poorly or you rushed through your work. It’s tougher to make money on the open-source model because you’re using technology that didn’t cost anything, but it’s not impossible.


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