Are you looking for a simplistic definition of Open Source Software? Beyond the technological terms, the collective imagination draws the idea of freedom in which, giving priority to openness, it is possible to freely access and improve each of the lines of code. In other words, if we adopt a possible definition of Open source to the “user-level computing” mode, we can imagine a group of people, brilliant indeed, who get together to discuss, analyse and come up with new things. And, immediately ideas come up that have to do with sharing, collaboration or innovation.
Above all the technological implications that we are not going to get into, Open source can be understood as a collaborative and transparent operating model in which all participants can view, access and improve what they find. A “simplistic” vision of Open Source in which there is also an implicit commitment to play an active role in driving continuous improvement; not only individual but also collective progress.
Yet, while these values of community, transparency or collaboration are implicit in Open Source projects, they must also bring benefits, both to the platform and to the users. And, that is one of the main reasons that such Open Source initiatives are almost always at the cutting-edge of technology. In fact, many of the platforms you use on a day-to-day basis use Open source software in their operation: browsing a website, e-mailing, smartphone use and music streaming. Pretty much all of these everyday things involve Open source software at some point in their development.
The same applies to the business environment. Everything from applications based on Big Data or Artificial Intelligence to the development of IoT, and even something much more usual, such as the Cloud, has several lines of Open source in its core.
So if we focus on the fact that any Open source initiative is accessible to the public and can be redistributed or altered by a community of developers, then it is clear that any initiative along these lines will be both flexible and cost-effective. Remember that this system allows the developers, not only to solve bugs or improve features but also to adapt the software to their specific needs. Of course, this is always an advantage.
And so, in terms of advantages, the following are amongst the most interesting to highlight:
PROFITABILITY AND SAVING COSTS
It is precisely the freedom that Open source provides that makes it a profitable system as well. Unlike proprietary software, Open source can be modified and extended easily, by hundreds of developers. In this way, companies do not end up being “techno dependent” or need to maintain their relationship with a specific supplier in order to have access to the updated software they use. Being able to call upon hundreds of developers who know and can access the code, is an unquestionable advantage in terms of profitability.
Of course, the saving in costs is a fact. The fact that Open source solutions do not require license fees is itself a competitive advantage since it provides more resources -and, more money- to invest in any other area, be it technological or not.
Frequently, proprietary software will require users to accept the terms and conditions of use. Conditions that limit how developers and programmers can use a specific product. However, with Open source, all community members have open access to the source code, so they may use it as desired.
Such freedom of access and use of the source code allows developers to create unique solutions that can then be extended and modified by other community members. It involves a process that experts call crowdsourcing and opens the door to new talent and a data warehouse that is collected and stored by the community as a whole.
When you opt for a particular technology, you are implicitly committing the business to solutions which will support it in its ongoing activity, but also its long-term growth processes. For this reason, the decision must be made by considering all the significant aspects of the technology and formulating simulations that will enable you to predict or plan its behaviour in different scenarios. Making the wrong choice would increase costs and drastically reduce the flexibility of the business. Open source provides much more freedom of manoeuvre to correct errors and brings that extra flexibility that today’s businesses require.
SECURITY AND RELIABILITY
The security, the robustness or the reliability, these are some of the most relevant aspects of the technology and the most valued by the IT managers of any organisation. Crowdsourcing provides a continuous checking process, overcoming the restrictions that proprietary software imposes. In this case, improvements are continuously built. The security breaches that are identified are corrected on the fly, and the launch of updates is also more agile and quicker.
That is what working in “community” is all about. It is a model that provides excellent opportunities for evolution as the code is developed in open platforms, guided by experts and allows you to make the most of the knowledge of professionals from all over the world. This talent generally makes the developed software exceptionally reliable and robust. In fact, open-source developments fuel around 90% of the Internet, which is quickly boosting its adoption in influential organisations worldwide. A point to reflect on in this sense: Open Source software had a penetration of 87.4% among Spanish companies in 2018.
Corporate Open Source applications often have behind them development communities with a common interest: to support and improve a solution from where both the company and the community could benefit. As a result, these global communities facilitate the introduction of new concepts, functionalities and capabilities more effectively and securely than internal teams working on proprietary solutions would.
It is a matter of common sense: “four eyes see more than two”; take that saying to a broader audience, and you have the key. Many talented people working towards a common goal generates an endless source of inspiration, drives a creative approach and, of course, is a model of continuous innovation.
Naturally, organisations that are committed to the intelligent use of Open Source software will find plenty of other reasons, over and above these, for implementing it. One would have to ask Android -Java-, Apple -Swit-, Facebook -PHP, Instagram -Phyton- or Whatsapp -Erlang- what drives them to use this type of source code.
More obviously, if these companies and technological platforms make use of Open source, the future of IT will follow them. In fact, according to data published in The New Stack and The Linux Foundation Report in 2018, 53% of all 748 developers surveyed stated that their organisation has already implemented or plans to implement an Open source software system. Likewise, the number of organisations working with Open source is expected to triple by 2020.
We will have to be aware of the evolution of Open source and, above all, we will need to be on the lookout for ways to monetise a solution that arises from the complexity of integrating many parts of Open source, especially in terms of implementation and extension. There will also be a need for management and governance policies to drive good practice and, above all, to set standards to accelerate progress. But what seems to be unquestionable is that, like Red Bull, Open Source gives you “wings”.
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