What is open source, and what are its advantages? Nearly everyone utilizes open source software. You encounter open source frequently on the internet, probably without even realizing it. There’s a high chance that your business is even dependent on it. But what exactly is open source software, and what are the pros and cons associated with it?
What is Open Source? Open source is a well-known topic in the IT world. It’s also commonly encountered in daily life, such as in the form of software on your mobile phone (Android), content management systems for websites (WordPress), or when composing documents in Word (Open Office). What exactly is open source, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of using open source software? We’ll explain it to you.
Open source is a development approach that makes software accessible to everyone. This means sharing the code and making the source code visible and freely available. All open source systems are monitored and distributed by groups of programmers and developers. Open implies that anyone can inspect it, but it’s not so open that an individual can make changes that the rest don’t agree with. The larger the group of programmers and users (the community), the more stable the system becomes. A large community ensures that bugs and errors are detected more quickly.
Additionally, this fosters uniformity among the development group, leading to the improvement of the system as a whole. In practice, it’s not a matter of just “making adjustments and being done.” The rest of the community must also agree. The definition of open source is increasingly used beyond the IT world. It also describes a process in which many people collaborate extensively. Open source is a creative process that solves shared problems and ensures that these solutions become common knowledge.
Open source vs Proprietary source (closed source)
The opposite of open source is proprietary source software (or closed source software). With this type of software, the source code is owned by the creator or provider and is not publicly available. The software can only be used and modified by the creator or provider, or by users who have purchased a license. Users do not have access to the source code and cannot modify or distribute the software without permission from the creator or provider. Proprietary source software is often developed by companies that aim to protect their intellectual property and sell their software.
Advantages of open source software
Using open source software offers numerous benefits, especially for startups.
Control: You have full control over the software. Programmers can modify certain parts of the software they are dissatisfied with.
Quick Bug Fixes: The large community of programmers working on a single piece of software enables swift bug detection and resolution.
Add-ons: Many open source systems allow the development of plugins or additional modules. For instance, WordPress offers thousands of plugins that provide extra functionalities to the system.
Disadvantages of open source software
While open source has many advantages, there are also associated risks.
Lack of Responsibility: Everyone and yet no one is responsible for the software. While developers will respond to bug reports, there isn’t a central point of contact. If you have a complaint or want a refund, there’s simply no one to turn to.
Continuity: The code’s development depends on various software developers. This also means that if the interest or enthusiasm of these developers wanes, the software may no longer receive updates or, eventually, become unusable.
Reliability: Because the code of open source software is public, individuals with malicious intent can also use this code. They may exploit vulnerabilities in the code to spread viruses.
Is open source software free?
Open source software can be free, but this isn’t always the case. Programmers can certainly charge for (parts of) the software they create. For example, in the form of support or maintenance subscriptions. Additionally, various types of licenses determine how the software can be used and distributed. Some licenses require that the software remains free for everyone, while others allow selling the software or using it for commercial purposes.
The key is to remain critical. This applies not only to the system you choose, the plugins you install, and the partners you collaborate with but also to vendors of closed source software. When dealing with open source, it’s especially crucial to trust that the involved parties have your best interests in mind. In short, this type of software can be free, but it’s not always the case.