Free and open source software is far more than just another way to develop code. In fact, the rise of the open source revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we use information to create a better world.
Traditionally, individuals and organisations would tightly guard their intellectual property, hoarding it and protecting it from outsiders.
Though it may have initially sprouted from the software development community, open source is now a movement, a philosophy. In this new way of thinking, we emphasise collaboration between brilliant minds, traversing different domains of knowledge, different countries and cultures – to ultimately tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.
Open source helps to democratise information, knowledge and technical skills. It plays a key role in building a fairer and more transparent world in the future.
From a purely technology perspective, open source remained the exclusive preserve of a quirky, niche community of developers for some time. However, over the past decade or so, the success of major open collaboration platforms has truly captured the benefits of open source. Consider, for example, the pervasive Android operating system that’s attracted millions of developers to create apps over the past decade or so.
Statistics from DevOps specialists Sonatype* shows that 7000 new open source software projects are launched every week (globally), while a staggering 70 000 new open source components are released.
We’re seeing CIOs in every industry seriously considering open source software, as they look to transform and modernise their technology estate – to cater for the demands of the new digital economy. Some of the most obvious benefits of open source include:
- Lower costs – though enterprise-grade open source applications may not be entirely free, they generally come at far lower cost than proprietary software from big-name vendors.
- Easier customisation – by becoming more actively involved in the developer community, organisations can influence product roadmaps, and request customisation and add-ons.
- Greater innovation – with so many developers working on codebases at the same time, open source software becomes a melting pot of fresh ideas and innovations, which ultimately benefits the users of the software.
- Full transparency – with visibility into the code base and its history over time, as well as discussions from developers as they address bugs or work on enhancements, you get a clear view of the software (in contrast to code that’s shrouded in secrecy)
- Meritocracy rules – with open source, decisions about how to evolve and modify software are ultimately based on value to the community of users (rather than driven by corporate profit motives)
- High levels of security – proponents of open source point to the fact that software is more thoroughly vetted by a broader number of developers (when compared to proprietary software) which helps to strengthen the security of the software.
- Creating open platforms – by adopting open source, we’re contributing to the open protocols and standards that are needed for the community to collaborate effectively, growing the movement all the time.
Getting ready for open source
Yet, to truly unlock these benefits, organisations need to have the right skills – in-house and within their technology partners – to customise, integrate and maintain open source software. Without the right technical resources, many organisations struggle to use open source effectively.
We should also remember that as open source software is developed by very passionate developers and engineers, this community often perceives things quite differently from the average Joe. Some of the common frustrations of open source include a lack of user documentation, crazy naming conventions, unreliable support, confusing release cycles, and somewhat ‘geekish’ user experiences.
From an enterprise architecture standpoint, it is also essential that organisations using open source establish clear policies and guidelines on how to use applications and services.
Open Source comes in all shape and sizes: from small command line utilities, to enterprise applications, to full operating systems. While smaller, simpler open source tools are relatively hassle-free to integrate into one’s environment, for larger business critical systems, organisations should carefully evaluate their capabilities to maintain the software.
Ultimately, the benefits of embracing open source within the enterprise extend more broadly than just the technology domain. As the culture of openness permeates throughout an enterprise, collaboration and teamwork rises, problems are solved more quickly and new ideas are sparked.
Open source isn’t just a technology. It’s a revolution.
By Sumit Kumar Sharma, Enterprise Architect at In2IT