Open source software is currently experiencing a surge in both popularity and applicability. While the technology has been around for quite a while by this point, never before has open source software been embraced to this degree. Perhaps the most notable example of this trend is the growing role played by these solutions in the public sector. Increasingly, governments around the world are leveraging open source for a wide range of purposes.
There are a number of factors driving this trend. Among the most significant, as Government Computing recently highlighted, is the growing realization that proprietary software providers require inflexible contracts. By turning to open source options, government agencies can enjoy the same or a better level of service without the need to abide by significant restrictions.
Real and imagined savings
The source noted that most of the debate swirling around open source versus proprietary solutions concerns cost. Many open source software advocates compare these solutions to generic medicine, while likening proprietary offerings to name-brand medications. The former will prove just as effective as the latter, but at a small fraction of the price.
Of course, as Government Computing acknowledged, this is far from a perfect comparison. There are other factors which can add to the cost of open source adoption, such as training, integration, governance, security, cloud adoption and more.
"Ignoring these in a simple view that open source is always cheaper will probably create a range of new costs," the source explained.
However, this does not mean the cost benefits of open source adoption are imagined. On the contrary, many agree that open source has the potential to deliver significant savings. Yet it is important to keep in mind that these rewards are possible only if open source is approached in a cautious, knowing way. This is key for open source solution providers, as well.
"The challenge for open source providers is to be open about total cost of ownership – the idea that open source is 'free' in a corporate environment is usually neither helpful nor true. Honesty about the cost economics will also help to promote the real potential of open source in a corporate environment," Government Computing explained.
The bigger advantage provided by open source software, Government Computing asserted, is the greater flexibility it provides for users.
"The challenge for proprietary suppliers is to be aware that they are on 'thin ice,'" the source explained. "Inflexible and aggressive contracts, or significant unexpected price increases will increase the appeal of open source tools, especially in the public sector."
Already, this process is well underway. The source noted that the public, as well as private, sector now regularly uses open source software. Such offerings give users a much greater degree of control over how their software is implemented and utilized, which is a powerful incentive to any IT team.
This view coincides with the perspective recently offered by industry expert David Wheeler. In a conversation with Opensource.com, Wheeler emphasized that the U.S. government has significantly increased its embrace of open source software solutions in recent years. Agencies that until recently had virtually no open source involvement now use a range of offerings, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, PostgreSQL and others. Departments now leveraging open source include NASA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the White House.
As open source becomes increasingly popular, its critical for teams to understand the risks, costs, and level of effort needed to incorporate code safely and effectively. Developing the right open source policy is the first step towards bringing a consistent, repeatable process to open source management.
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• Understand the four strategies needed to reduce your open source risk