Once upon a time, open-source software was relegated to the realm of garage-based startups and weekend hackers. But then an amazing thing happened. Companies started to recognize its potential. And suddenly the vast majority of those companies began using open source to increase efficiency, integration, and innovation across their enterprises.
Nine years ago, a survey of business leaders predicted that open source software had disruptive potential across all sectors of the software industry. Today that prediction is unfolding before our eyes. Ninety percent of respondents to the 2016 Future of Open Source Survey reported that their companies use open source software in some capacity. The survey results cite open source as the “preeminent architecture” for nearly all business software solutions.
That’s a staggering number, but it’s not a surprising one. Companies that use open source rely on it for competitive and technical features they can’t get from other software, including application development, production infrastructure, databases, cloud computing, big data, and more. Corporate giants like Walmart, Exxon Mobile, and Wells Fargo—and even the United States government—all use open source to manage certain aspects of their daily operations.
But some companies still feel squeamish about walking through the open source door. If you have concerns about whether open source software is secure or whether you will have the support your need, keep reading.
We’re going to put those fears to rest once and for all.
What Open Source Can Do For You
Open source software (OSS) gives you access to the source code so that you can make your own modifications to a software platform or application. Developers collaborate within the public domain, and the end result is considered shared intellectual property that end users can often obtain for free. It’s perfect for:
* Operating systems
* Web browsers
* Email clients
* Office productivity suites
* Content management systems
Let’s take a look at eight things you should know about OSS for your business:
When you choose OSS, you bypass many headaches surrounding licensing and compliance. You can install the software whenever and wherever you want to serve the needs of your business. You’ll also avoid paying for ongoing licensing, unlike proprietary platforms. Once you obtain the software, it’s yours.
One note here: there are different versions of open-source software licenses, and they provide different rules and covenants for businesses. When you choose open-source software, make sure the license fits your business’ real-world practices.
More than three-quarters of those who choose OSS do so to get a better quality product. Because OSS invites collaboration from many developers, there are more opportunities to find bugs and squash them. That usually results in a high quality product that will stand the test of time. With the right talent and tools, open source can protect the integrity of the end product while still maintaining an environment of rapid innovation.
OSS commonly carries a lower initial set-up cost than proprietary software does. But what you may not know is that it’s also less expensive to modify and scale over time. With OSS, you aren’t locked in to a single vendor, which means you can increase the complexity of the software more efficiently without worrying about being held hostage by one software developer. You’ll also shell out less for upgrades, administrative costs, support, management, training, and installation over time.
If you choose an open source product, will your data be secure? It’s a valid question, and the good news is that with so many skilled developers combing through the code, there are plenty of opportunities to find and correct potential security issues. That means open source often has fewer security concerns than propriety software. Most OSS applications do a great job of protecting against viruses, hacking, data leaks, and other security breaches. You’ll still want to take internal steps to protect yourself, however.
Make sure you take advantage of any new security patches that are offered after you install the software and continuously monitor for vulnerabilities. Resources like Black Duck help you inventory your open source software, map known problems, manage risk, and identify new threats.
When you create your own code, you hold the copyright for that code. There are a few exceptions to this rule, depending on the license offered by the original open source creator. The trick with open source solutions is that many different people contribute to the development of the final product. That’s why many OSS projects assign copyright to a single legal entity (person or company) who can make decisions about enforcement without having to consult every contributor. The key point to remember, however, is that the code is still open source. It is still freely available for distribution and modification, but individual contributors will be protected from legal ramifications. For more information on copyright, take a look at this discussion that delves into the nitty-gritty details, and consider consulting a copyright attorney who specializes in open source software.
OSS is by nature an exercise in customization. That makes it highly flexible and gives you the freedom to modify applications and specifications to meet the needs of your company. Because it isn’t tied to any one vendor, you don’t have to wait for a parent company to roll out upgrades, patches, or new features. Instead, you can adapt to changes in your business or in the marketplace quickly and efficiently by implementing your own new capabilities or updated code.
Open source is an excellent solution for companies with skilled IT personnel in house. But even if you don’t have a developer with knowledge of each OSS application you use, it’s usually not difficult to outsource the work. And you’ll never have to worry about a proprietary company going out of business or shutting down support on your software.
Speaking of support, a lot of OSS applications have free or inexpensive support available, and training opportunities are becoming more common as well. (For example, Worthwhile co-hosts a regular Python gathering.) Because larger companies now use open source platforms, support resources have grown. You can usually find online communities dedicated to a particular application. Some companies also create tailored open source resources for small businesses so that every user has the level of support they need.
8. Big Data Innovations
Open source and big data fit together hand in glove. That’s because open source offers a level of flexibility that can’t be touched by other solutions. Popular open source tools include applications like Apache Hadoop, HPCC, and RapidMiner. These tools and others offer powerful solutions for data processing, predictive analytics, real-time computation, data warehousing, and statistical modeling.
Happily Ever After With Open Source?
As any software solution, open source has both its positives and negatives. Sometimes the negatives surface because companies don’t maintain formal policies governing usage and employee contribution to the code. Sometimes there isn’t an automated code approval process or inventory of open source components. And sometimes the problem is that companies don’t recognize and plan for possible security threats.
If your company is ready to jump on the open source bandwagon—or even if you’re just considering a switch—don’t forget to look closely at what formal management policies you’ll need to put in place to choose code, track code, and minimize security risks.
In the next few years, we can expect to see additional developments in software-as-a-service, custom platforms and applications, and accompanying services and support. As open source continues to grow into its potential, companies will have to respond with better policies and processes for implementation and management.
The bottom line? If you take care of open source, it will take care of you.