Is open source software right for you?

Open Source versus Closed Source Software

Open source software permits downloading, customization and distribution of copies by the user. This type of software offers freedom to its users and promotes its use for business applications. One can download the source code to customize the software. The user has the option to distribute the customized version and its source code either free of cost or for a price. Examples include Firefox, Linux, Android, etc. When distributed free, the software is termed Free Software, and the user is bound by certain ethical practices.

In contrast, closed-source software needs the user to obtain a license for use and does not permit him the option to modify the software or access the source code. Microsoft Windows is a typical example of this type.

License Types for Open Source Software

GPL or General Public License is a common license, which imposes the condition that where a user customizes and distributes the software, he is bound to distribute the source code along with it. In other words, a user modifying open-source software is not permitted to convert it into closed-source software. Users not agreeing for this may opt out of a GPL license.

A BSD license, on the other hand, permits use of the program’s source code into another program. The user is not bound to distribute the source code of the modified software. A BSD license permits developers to use the code into their own closed-source programs, but denies end users similar rights.

Advantages to Users

• Open-source software are available to users at no cost

• Open-source programs are flexible

• One can use or distribute unrestricted number of copies, and would not need licensing for limited instances of usage.

• Open source software does not need developers to “reinvent the wheel”. The developers can use established open-source software to create new applications.

Popular sentiments about open-source software

Misconceptions and ambiguities between “open-source” and “free” software abound in the industry. The term “Free”, while offering convenience, also loads the users with bindings and responsibilities. Potential users often feel uneasy with this term. Many prefer to be vocal about just the immediate benefits of free software, deliberately avoiding the mention of contentious issues such as ethics and freedom. This is done with the objective of selling the software better for business applications. The users would do well to realize timely that the “open’ or “free” software programs, apparently lucrative to begin with, often lure them to proprietary software.

One may tend to believe that an “Open Source company” offers free software. Many developers have admitted in certain forums that they target selling only a portion of their products to the users as “free” or “open”, while they are in the process of developing proprietary add-ons, which the users would eventually need in any case. Developers are even known to use the term “open” to mean open to their internal staff, to ensure better and faster service delivery to their clients.

It can therefore be surmised that the users are made to see only the “lucrative” portion of the deal, whereas software sellers conveniently and effectively camouflage their hidden agenda.