The Importance of Choosing Open Source


Business requires software. But, not all software is created equal. Some software vendors would have you write a check based on marketing materials and documentation alone. Sure, the POC might have worked but how do you really know what you are getting into? Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut, even if you never planned to do your own maintenance? Open Source software, and the vendors which fully embrace the Open Source model, have nothing to hide and your business has everything to gain.


Shadow-Soft and Open Source


At Shadow-Soft, we fully embrace the Open Source development model. We believe it to be the superior way to develop quality software, and the solutions we sell every day are composed of Open Source software.


Linus Torvalds, originator of the Linux kernel, famously said “With enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Now, to a customer buying software, less bugs is obviously better. But, how do you make a direct comparison? With proprietary software, you cannot see the bug list, it’s hidden. To make a direct comparison, compare the mean time to resolution of a found bug. Our customers compare the time it takes the upstream Open Source project to resolve a defect with the time it takes their proprietary software vendor to resolve a defect (vs just respond – watch out when your vendor SLA just identifies a response and not a resolution). Many times, patches are available in Open Source upstream within hours — and they are available to everyone.


Open Source, that means free right?


Contrary to popular belief, Open Source doesn’t mean free of cost though many times the two do go hand in hand. Open Source is a development model, it means that the code that makes up the piece of software is developed out in the open. Anyone can view the code, download the code, compile the code themselves, etc. Nothing is hidden and nothing is secret. While a corporation may practice closed development and sale of proprietary software, they often prefer to use Open Source software because they know it has been vetted and they gain the ability to inspect the code if they believe a problem is occurring. Paying for Open Source typically provides for support, back ported defect fixes into the version you pay for (versus the bleeding edge of development) and architectural assurance.


But why shouldn’t I buy proprietary software?


The easiest way to think about this question is to consider the development department of any company you or a friend has worked for any period of time:


  • Were releases of the software bug free?
  • Was the focus to complete and ship or take however long it took for top quality?
  • Were any major bugs ever found just before a release? How were they resolved?
  • How many people were on the development team? Were they equally good? Were they equally passionate?


Thinking in these lines, it is easy to see how any software could be shipped with quick fixes, brittle underpinnings, inadequate quality enforcement, etc. The difference is in how it is sold. Proprietary software is sold as if it is crafted by a team of geniuses who cause permanent and stable solutions to appear into reality by pure force of will and determination. Can you think of any development department exhibiting those characteristics? If you can, consider if the characteristics are common or uncommon?


Open Source development is about recognizing the temptation to mask imperfection and instead put forth your best efforts as if the whole world is watching – because on any given day, it really could. Open Source is a meritocracy where developers are known for their works and anyone, including your business, can chip in, customize, and leverage the work and passions of many.


Decision point – buy Open Source and leverage your Open Source vendor.


When you choose Open Source software for your business you are making an balanced investment. You are investing in the community of developers by adding your own energy to finding defects and contributing enhancements and customizations. You are investing in your vendor by contributing funds to enhance the quality of the software according to your real usage of it – so the software improves in its ability to meet the needs of your organization over time. Finally, you are investing in yourself. By bringing Open Source software to your business, you are enabling your team to inspect and integrate custom solutions at the deepest levels of the software while still being able to take advantage of contributed solutions and knowledge brought into the Open Source community.


Want to know more?


Shadow-Soft is sponsoring this year’s All Things Open conference this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ll be giving a talk about Open Source in your business along with other top tier Open Source industry representatives. If Open Source development, business or culture interests you, please do come out and visit us at our booth and come meet me and my fellow Shadow-Soft colleagues.

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