Results of the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey suggest that some 78% of companies world-wide are actively using open source applications, while the number of enterprises not taking advantage of open source technologies or techniques in some way is less than 3%. There are several reasons for this, but all boil down to a single truth: open source is good for business. Even major IT players like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are using open source technology.
In this article, we’ll be exploring why. First, though…
What Is Open Source?
Open source has its origins in the world of software development, and describes an approach where the underlying source code of an application is made available for anyone to inspect, enhance, and modify. This is typically done within the terms of an open source license, which usually grants anyone agreeing to it the right to use the software in any way they choose – provided that any modified applications they may redistribute themselves are given out under the terms of a similar agreement.
Open source development and distribution take place in an atmosphere of collaboration, the open exchange of views, rapid release of prototypes, transparency, and a community-oriented approach that has lent the name “open source” to a wider range of activities that include knowledge bases, crowd-sourcing, and the cloud-based provision of consultation and services.
For businesses, this approach has several tangible benefits.
Individual and corporate users of proprietary software (the kind that’s shipped out for sale by commercial vendors like Microsoft and others) often moan about its drawbacks – and rightly so.
Proprietary software is also known as “closed source”, because its creators retain the exclusive right to inspect, copy, or modify the software. If you’re a user, you have to wait for the company to issue an update containing that invoicing tool that’s crucial to your current marketing campaign – and if it takes them several months to do so (or if they never do), then so be it.
With open source, users can have a much greater degree of freedom over the tools they choose. Given such a vast development community, if there’s a particular function or class of software that your business requires, chances are that someone somewhere has created an application for it, or a module that can be added to an existing program. And if it doesn’t yet exist, it’s possible for you to code an amendment to an existing app yourself, or outsource this task to an open source developer who has the necessary skills.
In essence, this puts open source on a similar level to the custom-made or bespoke software applications gaining traction in the business arena – only without the hefty price tag sometimes associated with specialist programming. And the vast majority of ready-to-use open source applications are free, so there’s that.
By their very nature, open source applications are designed to run on a wide range of operating systems and hardware platforms – some you may never even have heard of. This greatly increases your chances of finding a software solution that’s compatible with the equipment you use, and can be readily integrated with your network, systems, and business operations.
The cloud has a large part to play in this, and many open source programs are themselves written and compiled using cloud-based computing resources, knowledge bases, and help from other developers. For business users, the integration of open source and cloud resources enables companies a greater degree of choice in their own cloud services – a key factor in avoiding potentially costly and limiting ties to specific vendors or service providers.
Central to the open source philosophy is your ability to delve into the innards of an application and modify it to better fit your requirements. If you or your company have the necessary programming skills, this can be accomplished in-house. If not, the required talent can easily be outs
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