Open Source, What is it?
Last week I posted a comment on the recent reveal of a backdoor that had been written into a popular WordPress Plugin. From that post, one might get the impression that I am against free to use software. That is not the case, and I wanted to take a moment to discuss my thoughts on Open Source Software (OSS) and its major benefits vs. risks.
As its name implies, OSS is “open” and is generally written and maintained by the community at large. It is nearly always free to use, however free in this case does not mean free from effort. You should always carefully inspect any code you are deploying on your system that doesn’t have a company you can contact if things go awry. That said, there are many well-known Open Source applications available, from Open Office, a Microsoft Office™ substitute, to GIMP, a replacement for the rather pricey Photoshop™ from Adobe. There are also completely open Windows™ alternative operating systems like Ubuntu and the GNU Project, both based on Linux.
Open Source Pro’s
The first and most obvious thing in favor of Open Source Software is the price. It is hard to argue with free. But another factor that is less in-your-face than the price is the fact that open source code tends to be of higher quality than closed source code. Allowing any developer in the world access to the code means that bugs tend to get found (and perhaps ridiculed publicly on GitHub) faster than projects in which the code is hidden behind corporate gates.
Another major aspect of OSS in favor of its use is the speed of innovation. For the same reason as its quality, new features are much more likely to be tried and tested in Open Source code than closed source. With a world full of eager developers, there is always going to be someone that wants to try the latest and greatest shiny thing. This translates into much more feature-rich code with a constant stream of revolutionary ideas.
Open Source Con’s
The first negative facet of Open Source code is the security risk in the very newest updates. Obviously, due to the number of eyes watching, it is difficult for code responsible for bad behavior to remain in the wild for long. But if you are a “bleeding edge” type of user, you might be downloading the latest development updates before they have had a chance to be reviewed by the community. This is ill-advised and you would do yourself a favor to take a breath and pause for a while before hitting that download button.
A second major drawback of OSS is the lack of a large company standing behind the code. Without a “single throat to choke” there tends to be no recourse for a user that experiences negative side effects from Open Source code. This tends to scare off organizations, and you will rarely find a large company employing OSS in their offices.
The use of Open Source Software is a matter of opinion and personal choice. I use many open applications; however, I also use Windows™ and Microsoft Office™. One must do an evaluation and determine which offers the “best of breed” features that cover your needs with an acceptable level of cost. Additionally, and I can’t stress this enough, if you avoid the major corporations, you can limit the number of ™‘s you have to put into your blog posts…
Have a good day/night, wherever you happen to be.