Open Source Software: Pros and Cons for Businesses

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Many IT experts recommend that small and medium businesses use open source software as a key part of their IT strategy. So, what is open source, and is it really the best way to meet the technological needs of your business?

This article explains what open source software is, how it differs from “free software, and describes the main advantages and disadvantages of using open source software to meet the computing needs of businesses.”

What is open source software

Open source software (OSS) refers to computer software that is published and distributed with its source code open for modification by other users. The source code is released under a license where the copyright holder has granted the rights to use, study, modify, or distribute the software for any purpose.

Often developed in a collaborative and public manner, many developers are able to add, modify, and manipulate source code according to their needs.

Open source licensed software allows commercial enterprises to run, modify, and share the underlying software code. Open source licenses are legal contracts between the creator and the user.

Although often available for free, open source licenses are sometimes subject to restrictions. The restrictions may mean that a user must keep the original author’s name in the code, or there may be limitations on how he is allowed to redistribute the software.

As Anthony Kesteron, Senior Solutions Architect at Red Hat, explains, “Open source lets you see how software works, allows code, design and architecture to be reused for your own software as needed. It also means that you don’t depend on a single vendor, as everyone has the ability to modify, build, and deploy open source software.

The pool of open source technologies available is enormous. Chances are, your business uses open source software-based platforms without necessarily realizing that they are in fact open source. WordPress, for example, is open source, as is WooCommerce, an ecommerce platform built on WordPress.

“Open source should be a key part of the IT strategy of any small and medium-sized business (SMB). The open source community offers organizations unlimited access to the latest software innovations at an attractive purchase price.

What makes free software different?

Free software has nothing to do with price, it is more about freedom of use. Free software respects the freedom and community of users, giving the right to run, copy, distribute, modify or improve the software. Software freedom activists, Gnu.org, use the analogy “think of ‘free as’ free speech’, not ‘free beer’.

Free software allows users to control the program and what it can do for them. If users do not have control of a program, it is called “non-free or” owner. “

To qualify as free software, users must have the following four essential freedoms:

  1. Freedom to run the program for any purpose as they wish
  2. Freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to their own computing wishes, which requires access to source code as a fundamental prerequisite
  3. Freedom to redistribute copies to help others
  4. Freedom to distribute copies of modified versions to others and in doing so give the whole community the opportunity to benefit from their modifications

Of course, there is also the other kind of free software. Software that you don’t pay in cash but instead is paid as you go. A great example of this is Google Chrome. Google’s browser is free for everyone, but the built-in tracking, which monitors your every move, makes you a prime target for Google Ads.

In this case, the saying if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product “is absolutely true.

Benefits of open source software for UK SMEs

There are several advantages for companies wishing to benefit from the use of open source software in their organizations, the main ones being:

  • Reduced license costs, which reduces operating costs
  • No blocking to a single supplier, once you have chosen a preferred vendor, you may have the choice of switching to more conventionally packaged products or staying with the open source project.
  • Freedom use the software according to your needs
  • Open standards that support collaborative development
  • Ease and freedom to upgrade software as your activity progresses
  • Additional outside help for programming projects
  • Can help attract and retain smart technical talent

Publicizing that you are using open source software in the organization attracts talent. Giving your developers and users the opportunity to contribute to an open source community is even more appealing to people and could set your small business apart from other organizations.

Disadvantages of open source software for UK SMEs

One of the hardest things for SMBs when it comes to open source software is the proliferation of choices. Establishing the best way forward for a project can be a time consuming exercise.

Besides the potentially overwhelming abundance of choices, other downsides to using open source software in your business can include:

  • Hard to use: Some open source software can be more complicated to configure and use. A lack of user-friendly interfaces or features can make them difficult for your staff to use effectively, which could have a direct negative impact on productivity.
  • Lack of responsibilities and guarantees: Open source software usually contains a limited warranty and no protection against liability or indemnity for infringement
  • Difficult to get high-end commercial support in a timely manner, you may find yourself stuck and having to rely on the open source community to find a solution to an issue, which could cost you time
  • Sizes may be less acceptable: Proprietary formats, such as Microsoft Word’s “.docx” format, are so common that other formats may be less acceptable for regular business use
  • Compatibility with a particular proprietary format may be limited to basic functionality, rather than being 100% compatible, which may lead to compromises you are not prepared to make
  • Hidden costsSoftware installation can be free, but running it later can cost money, especially as you become more reliant on the software and your business needs grow

“While open source software doesn’t have a cost associated with purchasing a license, you still need to consider the cost of deployment and continued ownership, not just the upfront costs.

When it comes to making a final decision on what software will power your business, keep your business culture and philosophy in mind, as well as the monetary aspect of your decision.


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