Why is open source software so widely used?

on Jan 3, 14 • by admin • with No Comments

Using open source is a growing trend in technology that may be tough to implement at first because it requires a shift in philosophy from holding information tightly, to sharing and collaborating across platforms and continents. ...

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Using open source is a growing trend in technology that may be tough to implement at first because it requires a shift in philosophy from holding information tightly, to sharing and collaborating across platforms and continents. The challenge is well worth it because open source allows programmers to create user-friendly, uniform applications easily while saving money and creating community and collaboration. Here are a few reasons why it is a solution worth investigating.

Intuition and consistency

Consumers and businesses expect technology to be intuitive. From laptops to smart phones, navigation systems to ATMs, no one wants to have to stop and figure out how to get business done efficiently. The recent appeal of touchscreen applications is a perfect example. One of the main frameworks for mobile touch screens is actually open source: Sencha-Touch [1]. So, why would mobile developers take the time to reinvent the same user experience over and over, when open source is available for use in their code as is, or with slight modification, requiring only license compliance? This natural progression of the intuitive nature of open source technology to provide consistency makes applications more predictable, leading to ease of use for all. Can you imagine if iOS Android, Kindle and Surface touch screens each produced a very different and non-intuitive user experience?

Developer experience and more consistency

Intuition is not only for the users, it is also for the developers writing and implementing the code. The look and feel of a user interface, and associated experience, with an application is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the user experience lies deeper layers of code, more complex for sure, but common throughout many applications. For example, database structures and search engines live below the surface, but how they act, and the structure in which they are written, is fairly consistent. This ties back to the first example and how the intuitive nature of open source code helps developers implement open source at a faster rate, saving time and money. That intuition translates to the user experience we all now expect from our technology.

Cost savings

One of the most prominent reasons for using open source software is cost savings. For a software developer, grabbing code that is already written and performs the desired operations saves time, and therefore money. Believe it or not, this savings is passed on to the consumer. The experts disagree on an exact amount consumers save thanks to the use of open source software, but estimates are in the tens of billions of dollars annually. The cost savings to consumers is indirectly reflected in affordable products. This affordability allows consumers the freedom to try many different software products without getting locked into any one program. If you are locked into using one software package, you are locked into the price of the license(s), which can, and usually does, increase annually or per release. Using open source gives the programmer freedom to customize the code to suit specific needs so time (and therefore money) is spent on the unique, creative and/or more challenging aspects of their software. This inherently results in a faster time-to-market for new technology, and is why our world is now bursting with products that depend on open source.

Intellectual progression

Finally, let’s not forget or discount the lessons of kindergarten: share your toys. Whether the willingness to share your code is out of an anti-corporate-monopoly philosophy, or flows from the ideal of peace, love and code sharing, either model results in the gift of intellectual progression. Open source code allows people to learn from the code already written, and opens the door to possibility, rather than clamping down on ideas and solutions in order to preserve potential profit. It promotes community and collaboration, and applauds genius. Additionally, software developed by thousands of developers has the advantage of rapid peer review and source code evolution. One common myth of open source software is that too many eyes on the code results in code that is easier to hack. This myth is discounted in an article by Nick Heath, who quotes Dr. Ian Levy, technical director with the CESG, a department of the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency that advises UK government on IT security: “I’ve done a lot of work on this; there’s no objective evidence either way. On average, good open source is about as good as good proprietary, and [bad] about as bad as bad proprietary.”

If you are concerned about security risks, research and use the most mature open source projects. These projects will have teams of people reviewing, improving and releasing new code consistently.

Open source is here to stay and expanding every day. Take the time to explore the benefits of using this amazing resource, because not utilizing open source may very well result in falling behind in software development.

I have covered my top four reasons for using open source software. Do you use open source software within your company? If so, what are your motivations for using open source?

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