Open source software (OSS) has steadily grown in popularity over the years, growing from the favorite tool of programmers to the default choice of IT departments at large corporations around the world. Indeed, open source is increasingly replacing proprietary technology, with Red Hat’s 2020 State of Enterprise Open Source report finding that 95% of its surveyed IT leaders say open source is strategically important and they expect the use of enterprise open source in their organization. rise to 44% in just two years.
Outside of businesses, open source is everywhere. It’s in our home office tools and in over 70% of the world’s cell phones. It is even used to fight against plastic pollution. As organizations and individuals reap its many benefits, there is no denying that OSS is here to stay.
The importance of open source software
When most users think of OSS, thoughts of free software immediately come to mind. While that could certainly be the case, OSS isn’t always free. First and foremost, “open source” means that the source code is freely available to anyone who wants to view, copy, redistribute, and even make modifications to the software for any purpose. In addition, the “copyleft” rule applies to many open source solutions and prescribes that new versions and products based on free software must be released under the same license as the original version. This means that their source code must also be freely available and can be copied, used and modified.
Free accessibility and malleability are the main reasons why OSS is of immense importance in the software landscape. Almost all applications known today contain open source components, and the huge pool of source code has enabled even non-software organizations of all sizes and industries to produce software. In return, many of them also contribute to open-source projects, shared through platforms such as GitHub. This collaboration in turn makes it possible to perpetuate the creation and availability of free software.
The biggest advantages of open source software
According to Red Hat’s report, security (52%) and cloud management (51%) tools top the most important use cases for enterprise open source, very suitable for the world of work virtual, allowing organizations to keep running no matter where people are working and keeping them safe in the process. OSS has many other advantages in addition:
Transparency: With OSS, the source code is open and accessible to everyone, which makes it possible to understand exactly how the software works and what it does. Organizations can be confident that no unwanted hidden features are embedded or that the software is secretly mining data. In addition, the open source code allows everyone to adapt the programs flexibly to their own needs.
Availablity: Organizations can use OSS for as long as they want and in whatever form they want. Once the source code is published on GitHub, for example, it remains freely available there indefinitely. Even if license terms change in the future, the latest released version is still available as OSS. This makes the companies independent of individual manufacturers, which is especially relevant in an era when mistrust surrounds big tech companies.
Durability: Because the OSS is constantly transmitted, it exists independently of a single manufacturer and is constantly developing, growing and improving. OSS promotes knowledge and education and is often used in universities where students can experiment with applications without restrictions – an invaluable form of training before joining the workforce.
Security: Although cited as a frequent concern, OSS is actually extremely secure. Thanks to the large number of independent developers who contribute to OSS projects, even more than to proprietary software, there is always someone watching for suspicious behavior.
Transparency plays a decisive role here because it not only ensures that no backdoors lurk, but also massively minimizes the risk that someone can insert malicious code into the software. Additionally, updates and patches are generally available for OSS from the community relatively quickly after an issue is discovered, which means vulnerabilities can be addressed quickly. Proprietary software, on the other hand, requires the vendor to be aware and a solution is often slow to appear.
The risks of using free OSS
Although free open-source software is available and has many benefits, organizations must first consider implementation risks. First, there is no support – other than from the OSS community – and no warranty available. There are no SLAs guaranteeing defined services, and IT administrators should closely monitor OSS community activities to know when to download, test, and implement important updates and patches. All of these processes require tremendous effort and specialized knowledge, but in many IT departments, especially in smaller organizations, this manpower and expertise is not available.
Instead, and to ensure that the software runs securely and stably, organizations can turn to open-source commercial variants. These products are optimized for use in an enterprise environment – they are easy to install, work smoothly, and customers receive regular updates, fixes, and support. Red Hat, for example, has implemented this highly successful business model with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat OpenJDK Java Development Kit, and Red Hat OpenShift Kubernetes distribution, making it a leader in the OSS sphere. There are many other solutions to meet a number of requirements.
give and take
Opting for commercial OSS also contributes to the preservation of free software, ensuring that the sharing economy principle of the open-source concept remains alive. By giving something back as well as taking – whether financially or by getting involved in the community via code sharing – organizations can ensure that the OSS is accessible to everyone, at all times.
Open source software offers many advantages over proprietary software. Its availability and durability make it a valuable tool for everyone, from students to companies, and its transparency offers increased security. Risks remain, but for organizations without in-house IT expertise, open-source commercial variants offer simplified management, warranty, support, and often additional features and services that provide valuable added value. Opting for commercial free software also actively supports and nurtures the open source concept, ensuring that its principles continue into the future.
Elmar Geese, Chief Operating Officer, Greenbone networks