The first question should be - What is Open Source Software?

The term ‘open source’ refers to something that can be modified because its design is publicly accessible. In the case of software, the source code is publicly accessible and modifiable. There are several different types of Open Source Licences, and most will allow the developer to make modifications to the source code, as long as they make it freely available as well.

The other side of the coin is proprietary software. This is code that you are not legally allowed to amend, unless you get specific permission from the original authors. This holds true even when the software is no longer being developed.

Is this openness good?

There are advantages for a developers source code to be open. It allows their peers to look at the code and spot any vulnerabilities, fix said issues and release a patch before it is exploited too much. The openness of the software could have hundreds or thousands of developers looking at the code. You can be fairly certain that issues and bugs will be quickly ironed out. For a proprietary software application to get the same exposure to code review would be far too expensive.

Allowing anyone to access the software can also be a disadvantage. If someone does find an exploit, they can use this to their advantage until someone else spots it.

Is the software second rate?

As the software is open and anyone can make amends, you may think the quality will not be as good as proprietary software. In some case you would be correct, but a lot of the larger open source projects have very sophisticated management teams behind them now. They make their money by providing support contacts, training, purchasable modules etc. These teams will monitor the code being submitted and will only allow it into their main build if they are happy with the results.

Some open source software is run by big corporations. Microsoft has open sourced some of their products. IBM, Oracle, Google all have Linux operating systems they are developing and supporting.

Open Source Software is not solely ‘small geeky software developed in someones bedroom’ anymore. Large companies have embraced this approach and provide the stability that some organisations and businesses require.

As always, do your research before committing to an open source software project.

Some external resources to get more information on Open Source Software:

(Image: by Timothy Muza via Unsplash)