I want to start this post with the statement that I am a fierce supporter of Open Source, and all of my computers, servers, and smartphones are using different flavors of Linux. For the last ten years, I have used Windows ten times at most, all of this because some software vendors have been neglecting the Linux ecosystem for years. Other than that, I have no wish or necessity to touch Mac or Windows for anything rather than testing web or mobile apps.
At the same time, I want to strongly emphasize that Open Source as a model has its problems and that I believe no software development practice, Open Source or proprietary, is ideal. This post aims to list some of the advantages and disadvantages the Open Source model has. Despite its widely successful spell during the last 30 or more years, the model is somehow economically broken. But, let’s start with the lists:
- Open Source is almost free: Most open source projects provide free plans for casual users or tech-savvy customers by having an ecosystem. This way, a whole set of companies can build their business model based on these freemium plans and add value.
- More openness: People working on open source projects must make an ecosystem. And people stay in any ecosystem only if the system is open to proposals and changes according to members’ needs. In another case, the ecosystem usually does not survive for long. Additionally, everyone can review the code and search for security holes.
- Better collaboration: Legally speaking, if two organizations want to work together, they should sign a contract on every point they want to collaborate. Organizations already know how to work with the various Open Source licenses and do not need to reinvent the wheel for their specific case.
- Lack of responsibility: Most Open Source software comes without any obligations for the authors. Whether there are security holes, bugs, or losses by using the software – authors are not responsible.
- Too much decentralization: When a project becomes too popular, the lack of centralization increases politics and power struggles. By having multiple controlling bodies or boards of people governing the project, the number of interested parties increases and thus sometimes making the decision-making nightmare.
- Lack of support: Some Open Source projects entirely lack technical or user support. Even if they offer support, the customer must pay too much money to get any meaningful help. The plans with the lower cost usually are not helpful enough.
- Sometimes less secure: Many projects do not have the proper set of resources to ensure their level of cybersecurity, despite being used by many people. A recent example of that is log4j – all major Java products use it, and at the same time, a big security hole was discovered a couple of weeks ago.
- Complicated business model: Open Source is complex for monetization. Many products try surviving on donations or support. However, this monetization model does not scale as much as the proprietary one.
- Legal mess: Usually, proprietary products step on Open Source ones to speed up the development time. This technique is used primarily in Start-Ups or consulting companies. However, this approach has its problems. What happens in a similar case such as log4j, where a security hole or a bug in one of your Open Source components leads to data leaks or financial losses? Who is responsible? By default, this is the user of the component, aka you.
In conclusion, Open Source is not for everyone. It could be more secure or with better support, but only if the code comes from a reputable software vendor. In all other cases, the user is left on its own to handle their security and support. Another question is whether the alternative (using only proprietary software) is better, but I will analyze this in another article.