Without question, open source software continues to grow more popular around the world. Individuals and organizations from every region and sector now leverage these tools for a wide range of purposes and experience significant benefits as a result.
Yet despite this progress, the future of open source software remains unclear in a number of different areas. Notably, it is difficult to predict whether commercial open source products will eventually prove viable, as Forbes contributor Adrian Bridgwater recently discussed.
Commercial open source issues
Bridgwater noted that open source solutions are now widely used in various capacities, and in some fields have become dominant. For example, he pointed out that Hadoop is the biggest name when it comes to big data analytics applications.
But the popularity of this and other open source software offerings does not reveal much about the viability of commercial open source solutions, the writer asserted. There have been some efforts in the direction in the past – most notably, Sun Microsystems and its "free until you need maintenance and support" model – but thus far commercial open source remains more of a concept than an actual, viable business strategy.
For commercial open source to work, Bridgwater suggested that the mechanics would have to involve making application code libraries static, rather than dynamic. This would make the libraries certifiable. In this arrangement, the Free and Open Source Software community would have the ability to propose alterations and improvements to public code repositories while the static libraries could be removed, optimized or certified as needed.
This would protect critical, sensitive systems, such as aircraft cockpit control units, from being modified by open source enthusiasts or students who lack the expertise or responsibility to confidently update these codes. However, Bridgwater acknowledged that such a deployment would potentially undercut new innovation, which relies largely on the input from a wide range of volunteers.
The above scenario could serve as a model for commercial open source efforts, but this does not mean that such a model would prove viable for any organization. According to Bridgwater, though, there is good reason to suspect that these offerings will arise in the near future.
The writer pointed out that the focus on customer support's importance has never been greater. Boriana Ditcheva, Web development director at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, recently contributed to opensource.com, arguing that open source communities offer superior assistance compared to traditional technical support. This suggests that there is a market for commercial products that deliver user assistance in an open source fashion.
Proprietary and open source software together
Regardless of whether commercial open source software becomes a field in its own right, companies are already leveraging open source as a means of adding value to their proprietary offerings, as The Server Side recently highlighted.
The source explained that when a start up or other software provider goes out of business or is bought out by a competitor, its software offerings no longer receive support. Any organizations that have invested in these software solutions will suddenly find themselves out of luck. This state of affairs hurts not just the directly affected companies, but also software developers, as they now face an additional hurdle when trying to convince potential customers to embrace their solutions.
According to The Server Side, many firms now combat this state of affairs by leveraging open source strategies. By merging their proprietary software with open source, organizations can ensure that their software remains supportable even if the company can no longer offer support itself. This increases consumer confidence and further establishes the importance of open source software as a business model.