Is open source good for business?

Understand the benefits of open source software and why it is spreading into new markets

From the launch of the Free Software Movement in 1983, to the growing popularity of Java today, open source software is fast becoming a serious threat to proprietary software everywhere. By its very essence, open source fuels enterprising organizations, because unlike cookie-cutter solutions available from proprietary systems, it enables greater innovation and differentiation, helping companies stand apart and encouraging healthy competition at a lower cost.

Low cost and differentiation

It’s no wonder that many of today’s business and government organizations rely on open source software, such as Linux, as a low-cost alternative that can be customized to suit particular needs pretty quickly. In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of software acquired over the next several years will be open source. And we’re not only talking about operating systems and productivity tools, but also about smart software application tools like machine learning.

So why are costs lower? Open source software is often developed through community forums and collaborative ventures, with developers donating their time and expertise, so there’s little to no overhead in terms of paid expertise, or expensive marketing and branding programs. In addition, since customers have the source code, those who have programming proficiency can repair bugs on their own, without requiring large support costs.

So aside from price and differentiation, what’s the big draw? Here are a few advantages of open source:

  • Reliability. Open source applications are built upon languages, such as HTML, C++, Java or Ruby, which have been proven to be reliable and robust.
  • Security. By its very nature, open source enables anyone to look for and fix security flaws. And since its peer-reviewed, it opens the software up to a large base of inspectors who can quickly detect issues. In fact, many open source solutions are much more secure than proprietary Internet Information servers.
  • Freedom of choice. Since open source software is available to all, no one company owns the software, and no one company gets locked in with a specific vendor or long-term licensing fees.
  • Continuity. When a proprietary software vendor goes out of business most companies must scramble to find a quick replacement. Yet if an open source leader leaves a project, there are plenty of others to take over. The community drives the program, not any one vendor.
  • Flexibility. Open source software is flexible. You can take it, use it, and customize it to meet your specific needs. It helps you stand apart in your specific market. The key is having the right developers in place to take open source and make it your own.

Open source Linux dominates the cloud market

Just recently, Toyota announced that it is joining nine other automakers, including Daimler AG and Mazda Motor Corp., for in-car technology, building a Linux-based infotainment system. The platform, called Automotive Grade Linux, will be used in Toyota's revamped Camry sedan. Many of the car makers say that open source allows them to customize systems, rather than code everything from the ground up.

For example, for the new Camry, 70 percent of the operating platform will be generic code, according to a Reuters story. Additionally, companies can deploy Linux applications on cloud-based Microsoft Azure, blurring the lines between proprietary software products and open source.

Still a place for proprietary

While there’s little question about the business benefits of open source, there’s still a place for proprietary, best-of-breed solutions. Sometimes there’s cachet in going with a proven solution that was built on years of best practices. Also, some companies with limited IT resources may not care about customizing or tweaking solutions; they may not have the time or inclination to deal with it. For others, though, there are business benefits to be gained from open source. So maybe it does take a village to build great software, and that village is expanding its territory pretty quickly.

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