Many businesses enjoy the benefits of open source software, which can be tailored to the needs of the business by editing the freely available code. However, it’s important to also be aware of the disadvantages of open source software before deciding to roll it out across your business. These include unexpected costs, compatibility issues and security problems.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what open source software is and where it’s used. We’ll also explore some of the drawbacks of open source software and discuss how these can be mitigated to help to keep your business productive and safe. After all, your business is probably one of the most important things in your life, so it’s critical that it is protected.
What is open source software?
Open source software, sometimes abbreviated to OSS, is software that is publicly and freely available for use. Not only can it be used by anyone, but the source code is also available to view and modify.
Every computer programme is built on source code, which most users will never see. This code tells the programme exactly how to act and defines how it works. If a programmer has access to the source code of a piece of software, they will be able to customise the software to suit their individual requirements. This could mean adding new features or fixing aspects that don’t work correctly.
This ability to customise the software is why open source software is so popular amongst businesses – particularly those operating in the IT industry who have the capability to easily tailor the source code to meet their individual needs.
Examples of open source software
Open source software is used across various industries, including business, IT, education and finance. Whatever software you’re looking for, there’s usually an open source version available, whether you’re looking for a word processor, an accounting programme or website development software.
Some of the most well known examples of open source software include:
Apache Web Server
VLC Media Player
Why do businesses use open source software?
There are many different reasons why businesses across the globe choose to use open source software. The most well-known benefit is that most open source software is free to use. However, whilst this is the benefit that often comes to mind when people think about open source software, it isn’t always the case and there are many other benefits that businesses enjoy when using open source software.
Firstly, businesses enjoy the transparency that open source software provides. As the source code is open and can be viewed by anyone, the business can clearly see how the software works and what it does. This means that the organisation is able to ensure that there are no hidden functions built into the software to mine data.
Another advantage of open source software is that it can be adapted to suit the needs of the organisation. This means that the business is able to adapt the programme flexibly, adding new features or security functions where required.
Finally, open source software can be used indefinitely. As soon as the source code is published on a website such as GitHub, it will remain there forever. Even if the creator decides to change the licensing terms of the software in future, the last published version will remain available as open source software. This means that organisations don’t need to be reliant on technology companies for their software needs.
The drawbacks of open source software
Whilst there are many benefits to using open source software, it’s important to be aware that there are also several disadvantages of choosing to use this type of software. In this section, we’ll talk you through the most significant disadvantages of open source software.
Whilst some open source software is easy to use, many programmes are created to meet the needs of the developer, without considering usability. This can make open source software difficult to use, especially for those who aren’t tech-savvy.
If an application is difficult to use, it may impact on productivity, as staff are reluctant to adopt the technology or struggle to use the software. This means that you may need to train your employees to use the software effectively.
2. Lack of support
When you purchase a piece of software, you have the reassurance of a company you can contact if things start to go wrong. However, with open source software, you do not have this type of reassurance as it can be developed by several different people. This means that if things go wrong, there’s no one specific that you can go to for help.
Businesses that use open source software often do run into technical problems. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a technical team in place that know what they’re doing when it comes to software development if you choose to use open source software. The alternative is to contact the provider or look for third party support services to resolve the issue.
3. Compatibility issues
You may also discover that you run into compatibility issues when using open source software. This is because many computers will need specialist drivers to be able to run open source programmes. These drivers may only be available from the manufacturer of the equipment and the costs can quickly add up.
If you intend to use open source software, it’s always a good idea to check whether the software will be supported by your hardware.
4. Hidden costs
Many people assume that open source software is free. However, whilst open source software is usually free to acquire, there are many other associated costs involved in using open source software which many people fail to consider before implementation.
Additional costs of open source software may include:
Additional hardware required
5. Security risks
It’s also important to note that there are security risks involved with open source software. As the source code that this type of software is built upon is free to edit, this means that people are able misuse the code. Although the majority of people will improve the software, there are some people who will adapt the code with malicious intentions.
This could include creating viruses to infect hardware, steal information and for fraudulent activities. These issues are rare with commercial software thanks to the strict security protocols in place, but security breaches can be more common in open source software.
Is open source software really free?
As we’ve already mentioned, open source software is usually free at the point of acquisition. However, there are some potential hidden costs that you need to be aware of if you’re thinking about using open source software.
Costs associated with open source software may include:
Set up costs – It’s important to consider whether you need new hardware or specialist drivers to be able to use the software.
Installation costs – If you’re not tech-savvy, you might find that you need to hire someone to install and configure the software on your behalf.
Integration costs – Depending on the type of software, you may need to integrate it with other existing software, databases and systems.
Customisation costs – If the open source software doesn’t fully meet the needs of your business, you’ll need to modify it, requiring time, effort and potentially money.
Training costs – If the new software isn’t user-friendly, you may find that your staff require training to use the new features effectively and efficiently.
Maintenance costs – As time goes on, you may need to update your software, deploy new versions and apply patches.
Support costs – It’s unlikely that you’ll receive any support with open source software, so you’ll need to source and pay for third party support if you require any help with your software.
Open source software vs closed source software
Whilst open source software is software for which the source code is openly available, the source code for closed source software is not freely available. You might also hear closed source software referred to as proprietary software.
Users of closed source software will usually need to accept a license agreement the first time they use the software to agree to the permissions that they are being given. The source code of the software can only be copied, inspected and altered by the original authors of the closed source software.
This is a sharp contrast to open source software, where the source code is freely available to anyone that wishes to view, copy, alter and share it.
Let’s take a look at some of the differences between open source and closed source software.
Open Source Software
Closed Source Software
Usually required a purchase
No license required for use
Authorised license required for use
Source code freely available
Source code not released publicly
Anyone can make modifications and contribute to the development of the software
Only the developer can view and edit the source code
Support only available from other users or third party support services
Support delivered by the developer
Source code vulnerable to malicious users
Only the developer can view and edit the source code
Often not user friendly and any user guides are usually aimed at developers rather than end users
Usability is a key feature and user guides are typically available
Is open source safe?
It’s not easy to provide a blanket answer as to whether or not open source software is safe, as every piece of software is different. However, it’s important to bear in mind that by definition, open source software has source code which is freely available to view and edit, meaning that it could be vulnerable to malicious users. This does not mean that you’re guaranteed to run into problems if you choose to use open source software, but it is a risk.
Why is open source bad?
Open source software is not inherently bad. In fact, many businesses enjoy the benefits of open source software. However, it’s important to also be aware of the disadvantages and risks that come with using open source software, such as the hidden costs associated with this type of software, the difficulty of use and the potential for security issues. When you understand the pros and cons of open source software, you can make an informed decision that is right for your business.
Is open source software free?
The majority of open source software is free at the point of acquisition. However, this does not mean that there aren’t any costs associated with using open source software. These costs will depend on how tech-savvy you are, as you may need to look for support in installing, integrating, maintaining and customising your open source software.
Not only that, but if you run into any problems, it’s important to note that open source software does not come with any developer support, so you’ll need to look for support from other users, or from a third party support service.
Open source software has many benefits, from the low cost of initial investment to the ability to customise the software to meet the unique needs of your business. That’s why so many organisations across the globe rely on open source software to meet their business requirements.
However, it’s also important to be aware of the disadvantages and risks of using open source software. These include lack of support, potential security risks and the frequent lack of usability of the software.
Open source software can bring innovation to your business, through software that is not available commercially. Not only that, but you can then tweak that software to meet the unique needs of your organisation, so that it works perfectly for you. For businesses with an in-house IT team, this could be the ideal solution to your technology requirements.
As with every business decision you make, before deciding between open source and closed source software, it’s important to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of each option. This will enable you to make an informed decision that is right for your business.