Open Source and its advantages and disadvantages over Commercial software

The concept of free software wasn’t very common 15 years ago when everyone were able to get a personal computer. Commercial software products were prevailing the market and almost everybody were either using Windows 98 or XP, the documents were written is Word, Excel was used for carrying out different types of computation, BsPlayer for watching movies, even WinRar was paid, although that there was a bug – once you start the trial, you stay with it forever. When I bought my first computer, I didn’t even know that there is an operating system called Linux which can be downloaded and installed for free. And I didn’t need to because Windows was offering everything for me. I was able to play games, watch movies, chat with friends, browse the internet, etc. Most of the PC user had limited technical knowledge and the commercial software developers were aiming for designing functional and user-friendly software. This time can’t be however compared to the early 70s, when the users were actually the programmers and most of the programs were developed by computer science academics and corporate researchers working in collaboration. The software products of this time were generally distributed under the principles of openness and collaboration, because of the fact that they weren’t seen as a commodity. Software was free mainly because of the necessity of improvements and continuous integration into new hardware platforms. This was happening because different academic cultures were involved in the development process, and when the software was given to somebody else, it came with its source code so that it can be tailored to fit the specific requirements of the user. [1]

Nowadays Open source software is more widely used, than 15 years ago and this is because people have realized that it has some major advantages over the commercial software. First of all it offers more flexibility than the Commercial software solutions because it can directly be modified by the user to fit its own needs. Of course this means that the user will have to be more experienced in terms of technical knowledge and also have to understand the source code but still it leads to some positives outcomes: users become co-developers and having more developers significantly increases the rate at which the software evolves. Also the users can fix bugs, write documentation or implement new features. This factor also leads to security improvements. Commercial software is made by highly skilled professionals who are aware of the potential security problems, but before releasing their product they can’t cover all of the potential security breaches. Instead what they do is to give the product to the end-user and if a security problem arises, they simply provide a patch with the necessary fixes. In the case of Open Source, because of the fact that the codebase is reviewed by many more people, such kind of security risks can be discovered on an early stage, so that they do not affect the end users.

Another advantage for the users is obviously the fact that they are not paying anything for using such a product. The industry has estimated that the use of open source programs saves up to 60 billion $ a year. Just a simple comparison here: people who are working with Java do not have to pay for working with specific IDE (Eclipse, NetBeans, etc) in order to use the full set of its features but the ones who uses the .Net framework have to pay around 500$, which is the starting price for Microsoft Visual Studio Professional 2012. This is particularly useful for range of different user groups from Freelance developers to Startups and even big companies which want to implement low-cost strategy for their development process.[2]

Open source programs are not dependent on the company or author that originally created them. In the case when the company fails or the author is no longer interested in supporting the particular product, the community can continue to keep the project alive and even improve it.

Of course there are some disadvantages of the Open Source programs as well. The most obvious one is that an open source product can tend to evolve more in line with developers’ wishes than the needs of the end user. This could lead to problems for the users. If they do not know how to use the particular product, they will have to either spend some more time on it or to pay for training. In many of the case when the user does not pay for the product itself, he or she pays for the support. If that is not the case then fixing a particular problem may take longer than usual because open source software tends to rely on its community of users to respond to and fix problems. There is also the problem of high maintenance overhead. As the source code is freely available over the internet there’s potential for a constant stream of user suggestions for bug fixes and patches. This turns to lead to flood of patches which makes source code significantly more complex and can potentially lead to structure quality issues. And structure problems leads to higher cost of maintenance. [3]

To summarize open source has its own advantages and disadvantages. Using an open source product may be very useful in particular situations, but in order to happen so one should understand its advantages and disadvantages compared commercial version of it.



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