Open Source: Many Advantage Beyond Price

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Open Source: many advantages beyond price
Posted on Wednesday, August 5, 2009 by Erlik

When people think about adopting an Open Source solution, the first factor that comes to mind is the price: it is usually cheaper than proprietary alternatives. What a lot of people fail to consider is that there are a lot of other advantages to Open Source that can be much more important than the price factor. Let’s have a look at a few of them:

No forced end of life

One of the most overlooked advantage of Open Source is that there is no real end of life for any project. If a driver is released as Open Source and part of the Linux kernel your hardware will probably work out of the box for as long as you care to use that piece of equipment. In the proprietary world it is common for hardware manufacturers not to release a decent driver to run older hardware on newer operating systems to drive sales of newer models. When Windows Vista was released Creative Labs released a Vista driver that did not support all the features present in the XP driver for its older hardware, thus consumer were forced to buy the newer models just to have on Vista the same features as their old hardware on XP. This could not have happened if the drivers were Open Source, as any developer would have been able to port the XP driver to Vista or to modify the Vista driver to support all of the old hardware features. The same is true for software: even if the company that built your software does not support it anymore as long as a developer is willing to maintain it you are good, and if you really need that software nothing prevents you to hire that developer.

True competition rather than lock in

One of the easiest way for any software company to make long term money is software ‘lock in’. The idea is to sell you a piece of software without telling you its inner workings or how to convert the files it produces to other formats. This means that the original vendor is the only one that can sell you upgrades or maintenance on that piece of software since he is the only one that know how it was built. That exclusivity often comes at a premium price since the software vendor has virtually no competition for your custom. In the case of Open Source the inner working of your software and the files it produces are known, meaning that several companies can offer support and maintenance for it, as well as develop and sell compatible alternatives. This creates real competition, encourages innovation and brings prices down for the consumer.

Security transparency

Do you know if Windows is secure? Do you know if it has any back-doors? No you don’t, only Microsoft knows that. With closed source software you have no way to know if the software was properly tested for security holes or if unwanted code has been added to the software. With Open Source everything is transparent: you know exactly what you are running and anybody can easily look for security vulnerabilities.

The right to fork

What do you have to say about the direction that Windows has taken in the recent years? Not , much! If you do not like what Microsoft did with Vista and Windows 7 too bad, it’s that or nothing. With Open Source software you can Fork. This means that if you do not like the direction that a piece of software is taking you can always create your own version and push it in the direction you like. Of course this comes with some problems: it causes fragmentation and reduces the resources that can be invested in each fork, but often forking is actually not necessary. When the developers or maintainers of an Open Source software project realize that a significant part of their users are unhappy with what they are doing and are ready to fork they sometimes change their plans to make everyone happy. Sometimes forks also merge after some time, or sometimes the less popular fork dies. This means that users actually have much more control on the direction in which the Open Source software they use evolves than with closed source software.

These are only some of the advantages of Open Source. This is why I would always prefer to purchase hardware for which there is an Open Source driver, or application that are Open Source. It is not only a question of price!

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