The Pros and Cons of Open Source Software
Every painter starts with a blank canvas to create, drawing inspiration from many sources such as their surroundings or imagination. It’s important not to constrain oneself creatively, because an artist must experiment to see what works and doesn’t work in their art. Likewise in open source software, developers have the freedom to change the source code and see what works for their website. There are several pros and cons of open source software that every interested business should consider.
The Pros of Open Source Software:
1. Easy to Install and Manage – Open source software is easy to install in multiple locations and is not resource-intensive, so you can use the software on old hardware.
2. Continuous Improvements Made in Real Time – Anyone can take the initiative to fix bugs and make the code better. Open source software is more secure, as the code is accessible and editable by everyone. Users can fix bugs as they are found, without having to wait for the next release. An open source project is continuously analyzed by a large community, producing a more secure and stable code.
3. Zero Licensing Fees – Even if there are licensing fees, the amount is very small. This gives businesses the advantage of avoiding maintenance fees. In addition, most open source software is free, which can save you a substantial amount of money in the long run.
4. User Community – If the company that created the software fails, the code can still exist and evolve via its user community. Open source software is not dependent on the company or author that originally created it. Even if the company folds, the code continues to exist and be developed by its users. It also uses open standards accessible to everyone, and therefore does not have the problem of incompatible formats as found in proprietary software.
5. Adaptive Exploration – Your IT staff can explore the code to better understand the product and introduce unique improvements to best serve your organization’s needs.
The Cons of Open Source Software:
1. Difficult Learning Curve – One main disadvantage of open source software is that it’s typically not easy to learn in a day. You might require training before you are able to effectively utilize an open source solution. The average to amateur developer might need to hire a specialist to help with training, which will cost time and money.
2. Confused Users – Not all open source software solutions are compatible with proprietary software. In such a case, you will need to undergo a compatibility analysis of all the other relevant proprietary software being used. Also, because open source software is constantly being developed and having new functionality added by multiple vendors, it can be tedious to sift through different versions when looking for the right software for your business.
3. Not Entirely Free – A downside of using open source software is that it can involve implementation, administration and support costs. Also, many of the latest hardware systems are incompatible to open source platforms, so you might have to rely on third-party drivers.
4. Hand-Me-Down Projects – When multiple developers work on the same creative software, it can potentially lead to disagreements and disputes. This might cause developers to quit and thus hand the project off to incoming developers who haven’t had experience with that specific project. Most employees don’t like being given “hand-me-down projects,” because the inheritor may lack the motivation to finish it.
5. No Guarantee of Community Support – No one in the open source community is obligated to answer your questions or help you with your codes. You’re pretty much on your own, unless you are friends with a knowledgeable open source developer who has the time to help you. If not, you’ll have to hire someone with experience to teach you — which again, leads to extra costs.
While there are many benefits to adapting an open source software solution, the process of using it is not for everybody. You need to familiarize yourself with the source code and have the patience to experiment, edit and apply new codes and techniques. Just like any amateur artist learning a new art form, the only way to see if you are successful at it is to learn it, test it and apply it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to take advantage of open source software, be sure to check out our handy infographic on how to run a business using open source solutions. You can also peruse our other exclusive content on open source by visiting the Business-Software.com blog.
[Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kerry Lee Smith.]