A practical approach to Open Source (part 1)

I am often asked about OSS (Open Source Software) – I am not sure whether it is because I have been somewhat outspoken in the past…

…or whether it is because users are not completely sure whether they can trust the marketing messages put forward by different OSS projects and their supporters and are looking for an independent perspective. However, I have decided to jot down a few thoughts around OSS, based on a practical and logical assessment. I have gathered these observations into four areas

  • What are the user benefits of open source?
  • What are the risks?
  • How does the particular open source project business model work?
  • What needs to be done to achieve the benefits?

This first post deals with the first area – what are the user benefits of open source?

I guess the most common one users bring up is that OSS is free! No license fees has got to be good, hasn’t it? Just one work of warning here – it is worth checking the exact terms for the specific OSS software to validate that it really IS free. Strange as it may sound, some ‘OSS software’ is NOT free of charge.

However, there are other potential benefits to consider. For example, some users find that having access to the source code is a benefit. This may be because the user can now make changes to customize the software so it is more effective for the company, or the confidence it brings that a failure can be resolved locally without having to wait for support organizations to respond. Once again, however, check the small print. Some OSS Software projects do NOT distribute the source, and others require any updates and new developments to be fed back into the project.

Another appeal of OSS is the fact that it can pool the ideas of thousands of technical minds across the globe. Hopefully this will mean that the code is usable and effective. Since these minds will also be available to check the code, it should also give a higher code quality. The caveat in this case is to make sure that the particular OSS project of interest really IS a broad community, and not just a small interest group or worse still a single vendor pretending to be pushing a widely supported OSS project.

Finally, there is the hoped for standardizing effect of OSS. That is, if an open source project takes off and gets wide industry backing, then all vendors are likely to find it easier to support because there is no hidden agenda of favouring a particular vendor. This can stimulate a much wider and more rapid acceptance of the particular code-based, resulting in it becoming at least a de facto standard if not one supported directly by standards bodies.

More to come – the next post will be about the risks of open source….

Steve

Posted in enterprise architecture, Imported, Industry trends, Open Source, OSS.

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