Open Source is a technology
Open source is a model of software development that relies on collaboration and open access to source code, rather than centralisation and secrecy as was traditional in software development.
While open source has been described by some as a "business model" that competes with traditional software businesses, this is inaccurate. Open source is a set of pragmatic processes, a technology that exploits cheap internet communications to maximise the network effects in the collaborative discipline of software development.
Esoma believes that open source practices and products can bring significant competitive and economic advantages for software producers and consumers, and are therefore an essential part of a free software market. Esoma believes that the adoption of open source practices and products is an important choice for software producers and consumers.
Open source for software producers
Producers face the choice of making new products as open source, and of "open sourcing" existing products. For producers, choosing an open source approach can bring these advantages:
- Eliminatation of marketing and sales costs.
- Lower distribution and packaging costs.
- Source code publication encourages a higher level of quality.
- Better motivation of both compensated, and external volunteer developers.
- The creation of substantial goodwill with prospective clients.
- The creation of new markets for services and products.
- The disruption of existing market monopolies.
Against these benefits, a producer must weigh the loss of potential direct income from sales of the product. A good rule of thumb is: "if it is hard to sell, make it open source". It's rarely worth open-sourcing a well-selling commercial product.
Open source is not an automatic route to success; it requires careful planning and organisation. An open source approach must be part of an overall business strategy that includes other sources of revenue. These can include:
- Sale of service-level agreements to users who have a sufficient business need.
- Sale of additional traditional software products to users of the open source product.
- Sale of additional services such as customisation, translation, installation, training, etc. to users of the product.
Additionally, some open source projects can get sponsorship from larger firms, foundations, and even from public donations in some cases.
If you are looking at using an open source strategy in your firm, Esoma can provide expert assistance.
Open source for software consumers
Consumers face the choice of balancing functionality, cost, and flexibility. For consumers, choosing open source products generally offers these advantages:
- No licensing costs, so lower upfront investment.
- Helpful expert communities, so lower support costs.
- Access to wider pool of technical expertise.
- More standards-based, so less vendor lock-in.
- More portable, so less dependent on specific operating system versions.
- OS-vendor neutral, so no forced upgrades.
- Fast adaption to new technological opportunities.
- Better designed, more secure, and with fewer crashes.
Against these benefits, a consumer must weigh the fact that most open source products are leanly designed and thinly packaged. In some market areas no open source products may be available at all. Thus a firm should use open source where possible, as part of a general long-term cost-reduction strategy. Large software consumers should consider investing in, or sponsoring, open source development in particular areas that can benefit them.
Open source licenses
While there are hundred of open source licenses, these broadly fall into two groups:
- Active licenses: the "GPL" family, which enforce their license conditions on all works that are based on the original licensed work. In general active licenses create a better "free software ecology" but are less business-friendly.
- Passive licenses: the "BSD" family, which impose few or no license condition on derived works. In general passive licenses are more welcome in business use, but reduce the scope for commercial re-licensing.
Software producers - as copyright owners - can choose the license model that best suits their businesses. Other considerations, such as the copyright of contributed works, must also be considered.
Esoma can provide expert assistance in choosing the right license or mix of licenses for your open source products.
Open source myths
- Open source costs nothing
The license cost is only part of a cost/benefit calculation. Consumers must also consider the cost of technical assistance, training, updates, migrations, interfaces, hardware, etc. All software deployment should be properly accounted, so that open source is used for pragmatic, not philosophical reasons.
- Open source software is built by volunteers
Many open source products do benefit from many hours of donated time, mostly in testing, support, customer support, and so on. Almost all successful open source projects rely on a core of long-term professional developers and managers.
- Open source belongs to the community
Many open source products have large numbers of contributors, but most are the work of a small number of authors, or a single company. Like all creative works, the authors own their work under copyright law. They choose to give the community access to the source code, under a license, but this does not take away their ownership.
- Open source is unfair competition to commercial software firms
Most modern IT firms have embraced open source for pragmatic reasons: it drives new markets, produces innovation, motivates staff, creates goodwill, and gives firms access to wide pools of technology at low cost. The firms that resist open source are becoming fairly rare, for clear reasons.