5 factors for using open source code in proprietary software

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Open source software development establishes an environment in which authors can create and publish source code …

for collaborative study, adaptation and redistribution.

Any company, team, or individual can create and publish code under an open source license. Open source components go far beyond the mundane user interface and utility functions. Contributions are available in fields as diverse as desktop publishing, AI, math, imaging, data storage and networking, games, education, programming and security. A community like GitHub, for example, hosts over 100 million repositories created by over 31 million contributors.

With this embarrassment of wealth at hand, teams must make decisions about using open source code in proprietary software projects in ways that don’t undermine their business goals, security, or effective development practices.

Benefits of free software

Developers can easily obtain, modify, and integrate countless packages of open source code into various software projects. Using open source code to enable core functionality and processes in a proprietary software project can reduce the time spent in development cycles and allow code creators to focus on essential and enabling functionality for the business. .

While open source elements confer tangible benefits on software development projects, they can impose challenges and limitations on a proprietary application, especially if the project is intended for commercial use. Organizations should assess the management and integration of other creators’ software components, their project priorities, responsibilities, licensing, and security before selecting open source code for a project.

1. Integration and management of open source software

Many open source components have a plethora of alternatives and variations. For example, developers can choose from dozens – and sometimes hundreds – of open source UI engine options. You need to evaluate and monitor each option to make sure it will work with your overall project design. Some open source code requires integration with other components, and you should test each integration point to ensure the quality of the software.

Additionally, open source software is updated to fix bugs, improve performance, and add functionality, which means that the components of the proprietary project need to be re-evaluated and checked when changes occur in the open source project.

Integrating open source code into proprietary software can create a nightmare for project managers. When a distributed software project relies on hundreds of open source components, the time and effort required to just keep track of each component, its compatibilities, and its updates can affect the project’s development cycle.

2. Responsibilities of open source code

The open source evaluation and verification process should include a review of the component’s roadmap and coding.

A software team may want open source code that meets their pressing needs for certain features, but only considering what they need today might bite them later. Learn about the future of the code, including potential major changes. If the component has not been updated for a while, some call these projects abandonware – or will not fundamentally support the capabilities that your project should need in the future, consider using internal work or other open source options.

The open source code does not offer any guarantee of quality or performance. And unlike commercial software, code usually has no guarantee to provide a remedy for failure or poor execution. Companies take full responsibility for the performance of their projects, even if the fault for poor performance or error lies squarely in a piece of open source code. When using open source code in proprietary software projects, take into account the warranties and limitations of liability defined in its license.

3. Licenses and intellectual property

While open source software is free to obtain, modify, and work with, it is not in the public domain. The open source software is released under a license, such as the Apache 2.0 license; BSD license; GNU General Public License (GPL), lower GNU library or GPL; MIT license; or Mozilla Public License 2.0. Each license describes the terms of use and distribution.

Generally, open source software licenses do not significantly limit a company’s ability to acquire and use it. Thus, a proprietary and commercial software product can rely on open source components.

However, companies need to know if and how a license can cause problems. The GNU GPL requires users to publish any derivative work under the same GNU GPL license. If a company obtains and modifies open source code under the GNU GPL, it must copy the modified code, that is, also publish it as open source.

In some cases, the entire software project is considered a derivative work of the open source code it uses, and all source code for the proprietary project is released for open source distribution under the terms of the license. For this reason, business decision makers can prevent developers from using open source code for a project, even if it meets the group’s requirements and functionality criteria.

4. Commercial priorities

Don’t just assess the suitability of an open source component for a project in terms of the time and money it saves. Evaluate whether or not the component is helping to achieve your business goals.

To gain competitive advantage, companies rely on innovation in software functionality and efficient performance. Developers should always look for opportunities for innovation, whether it means reducing project time by inserting open source code or creating custom components that meet the exact needs of an application.

For example, developers of a visualization and rendering tool project could adopt the open source 3D modeling software Blender for basic functionality, but nothing prevents their main competitors from doing the same. Thus, the resulting tools would lack differentiation to attract potential customers.

5. Security of open source software

A deep and active open source ecosystem is fertile ground for vulnerable and malicious code. The open source marketplace is the ultimate example of Warning, which in Latin means “let the buyer beware”.

The security of open source software relies on community feedback – which is more effective the more popular a project is – as well as routine vulnerability scanning. When using open source code in proprietary software, companies must assume the risks and implement security oversight beyond community input to ensure the software meets their corporate standards. . For example, developers and testers should examine open source code for spyware and other embedded malware, as well as vulnerabilities that can leave the proprietary software project open for exploitation by malicious parties.

Organizations that rely on open source code in software projects should use vulnerability testing tools to detect susceptibility to issues such as buffer overflows, address protocol spoofing, denial attacks distributed service and cache poisoning. Vulnerability testing can be integrated into a software delivery pipeline.

You need to assess these five key areas for every project and for every piece of open source code. Open source code components are all governed by specific license terms, are built with varying degrees of performance, and are subject to a myriad of potential quality issues.

The common factor to all use cases of open source code in proprietary software projects is that the responsibility lies with the company, not the creator of the code. Design policies for how to intelligently use open source software and how to validate, manage, and optimize code.


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