Open Source Vs. Closed Source Software

Open-source software v closed source software is a topic that nearly everyone will have a view about. People tend to have very entrenched views and can be very vocal. I hope I can be even-handed in this comparison and present both sides of the argument.

Open Source Software

What is Open Source Software?

Open Source software is software that is released with the source code publicly available. This allows outsiders to check out, modify, and improve the source code and release the modified version to the public. Typically it is released to the general public for free, although this is not always the case. The model is designed to encourage a community development of the original software.

Open Source Software – The Positive

The main reason that many people first choose Open Source is the ease of availability. It can be downloaded easily, and then because the coding is available, it can be modified. Assuming you have the technical skills, you can also resolve bugs yourself. There is generally a large community of people looking for bugs and issuing fixes.

Open Source Software – The Negative

The inverse of having lots of people looking for bugs and issuing fixes is that you can find yourself constantly working on the code to implement the changes. You need to really understand the code to put some of these fixes into place, and if you do not have that level of skill, you may need to find training. Occasionally hardware might have compatibility issues with Open Source software.

Close Source Software

What is Closed Source Software?

Closed source software does not release the source code to the public. The software is typically designed with one type of end-user in mind and may not be an exact fit for your company. Since you do not have access to the source code, it will be impossible to modify it to work better for your organization. The source code creators do not want outsiders to make changes (which may not be successful) to protect their brand. Examples of closed source software are Microsoft Office, Windows, IOS, McAfee anti-virus software. You will note that all of these are more expensive than alternatives that are open source.

Closed Source Software – The Positive

Typically, you will receive access to manuals that explain software use, and there will be dedicated support teams to assist with any issues. With a Closed Source solution, you are buying a package with the expectation that all bugs are ironed out and resolved. You have some kind of legal recourse if the software does not provide the solution it promises.

Closed Source Software – The Negative

Because the developer does upgrades and bug fixing, they will regularly release upgrades in one large package, which frequently has cost implications. The cost of purchase for closed-source software can be prohibitive, and if several licenses are required can be beyond the resources of small business to afford.

Comparing Open and Closed Source Software

Security

A frequent comment by opponents of Open Source software is that Open Source software must be a greater security risk. Everyone is given access to the source code, and hackers can exploit weaknesses.

Supporters of Open Source would refute that potential weaknesses are equally visible to the user community. Many skilled users can produce fixes for any weakness much faster than a Closed Source developer can.

Support Issues

While the Closed Source Software providers will almost certainly have a dedicated support team, as a profit-making company, paying for that support team will always be prohibitive and will be financially constrained. Since Open Source support tends to be through the user community and will perhaps have hundreds of developers scrutinizing the software, there is a higher level of support available (although it may be on an ad-hoc basis).

Customization of Your Package

When a company purchases Closed Source software, it is rare for the software to be 100% compatible with their needs when it arrives out of the box. Usually, the end-users have to implement workarounds to adapt the software to the company's exact needs. Because access to source code is not available, it cannot be changed to meet the buyer's requirements. With Open Source software, this is not the case. It is relatively easy to make minor alterations to the source code when you have access.

Conclusion

It has not been my intention to say one type of software is better than the other. I have simply offered you the facts about the two software models so that the customer can assess what is important to them and decide which model they prefer.

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