Using Open Source in Software Products – Why and Why Not?

When open source components were first used in software products, they started off as a silent rebellion or, perhaps, an option for product developers to release faster and save money while doing so. It was as if the developer community rose to the occasion, collaborated and software products that included open-source elements were born.

Ever since then, there has been a huge debate about which is better, which is more beneficial for software product companies and which, in the long term, helps build better products.

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of using open-source software while building software products.

Why use Open Source software? 

  • Cost-effective

The primary idea and motivation behind the development of open source software is its cost-effectiveness. Open source software is mostly free, readily available free of cost and doesn’t require any licenses for distribution for public as well as private use. Furthermore, open-source software doesn’t charge for patches and updates. This makes open source software a more cost-effective option for product development enterprises. Plus, since you are not locked into pricey proprietary software you can always try multiple software solutions, change from one to another, without putting a dent in your development and tools budget. 

  • Availability of components

Since open-source software is, well, open, the components are, often, readily available. Enterprises focusing on speed of development and release do not have to wait up to receive components. They can drive agile development with the help of open-source software products. In the context of the users, the insertion of open source software into enterprise information systems is also often easy. The interoperability with other businesses, devices and users is more streamlined. 

  • A large community of developers

Open source software is supported by a huge community of developers worldwide. These developers continuously access the code of the open-source software, suggest unique upgrades, find bugs, add features, and close security gaps regularly. The developer community of open-source software is a passionate group that is highly accountable, passionate, and, of course, talented. For product owners that want extra assurance, what better support than the open-source development community! Even when the support for an open-source software element is charged, chances are the fees will be significantly lower!

Why not use open-source software?

After discussing the positives, let us now have a look at the cons of using open-source software.

  •  Compliance Requirements

Primarily, open-source software can easily meet licensing and data privacy needs. But since open source software is available in a more raw and unfinished form, it often doesn’t come packaged with specific warranties or official guarantees. For businesses that are on the block for compliance requirements, open-source software can create issues. Especially if the software stack contains hundreds of independent pieces of open-source code, permissions and licensing for each can be strenuous and complex to document and prove. Also, for enterprises that require longevity, open-source software products may not offer a guarantee for the same.

  •  No Support Guarantee

Open source software is customizable, and the support is sourced from the community of developers. But, as with anything else, there is always a downside. The product development companies are fine as long as there are experts in the community who are fully aware of the customization. But if there’s a lack of expertise in the area, there’s a problem without an easy fix! This also translates into a possible inconsistency and incompatibility with some enterprise systems and software. In that way, the support for open-source software elements is not guaranteed!

  • Unpredictable updates

Open source software development is beholden to the worldwide community of developers, more often working on it out of passion and interest. But that also means that the update cycle is not predictable and can often take longer than anticipated. For product developers that heavily depend on upgrades and updates, open-source software can be a stressful ride.

  • Not always at par with proprietary software

As mentioned before, the open source software products kick-started as an alternative to expensive proprietary products. And while there have been pretty solid, intuitive open source software products, that all of them will be at par with proprietary software is too much to expect. So, if a product development enterprise is feature-focused and needs the software to do a very specific set of things without any exceptions, open-source software might not always be the best bet!

So what’s the verdict? As encouraging and gratifying open source software products might be, for software businesses that are looking to deliver software that is ultra-compliant, need a support team that has its back 24*7, and for whom security and compliance is a prime concern, proprietary tools and components might just win the battle!

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