Commercial Software vs. Open Source software


Lately the debate has been whether to purchase commercial software, or use Open Source (essentially free) software. Before that can be answered, it’s important to know what each is, and what each brings to the table for you. Companies who specialize in Proprietary (commercial) software would like to see you only use their type of software. And, the Open Source community would like to see you go strictly Open Source. Yet still there are others who believe that the best practice is actually a combination of the two.

So, what is commercial software, and what is Open Source software anyhow? Commercial software is considered “Closed source” because the creators do not want to reveal the source-code behind the programs. This is due to different factors, such as the idea that if they reveal the code, then someone else will make the same software for free. Which means, you’ll download that, instead of purchasing their version. Another factor is the belief that if potential hackers or malware creators have the original source-code, they can find the ‘holes’ and exploit them faster than the software creator can fix them.

Open source on the other hand, believes that the source-code should be freely available to modify as the user sees fit. However, the original author still retains the copyright and ownership to the code. Some of the projects are collaborations consisting of many people, who don’t necessarily know each other. They just all have the same goal of making their piece of the project work. The Open Source community also believes that by having the code freely available, potential security issues and other “bugs” will be fixed faster. It’s kind of the theory of four eyes are better than two (or in some cases, thousands of eyes are better than two).

In the first paragraph, I labeled Open Source as “essentially free”. This is because the person creating the software (or people modifying it) can sell the software (or support for it). The difference is, they have to provide the source-code, and credit the people who wrote the source-code they used (in the case of modifications). An excellent example of this was RedHat Linux up to version 9.0. RedHat offered the source-code, and the Operating System for free. However, if you wanted a boxed set, including printed manuals, and support, you had to purchase their Enterprise Edition. This still holds true today. RedHat offers the “Fedora Project” as their free version of Linux, and their Enterprise Edition (with updates and support) as their paid version.

So, which is better? In reading what I’ve posted so far, you’re probably going to say “Open Source” without a doubt. But, there are other things to consider. The commercial versions (especially the software created by Microsoft and their partners) are extensively tested on Windows. And in the case of Microsoft, the developers of the software have access to the source-code of the Operating System(s) that they are intending to run the software on. And, the commercial software company can afford to spend money on good technical and customer support for their software.

In future posts, I’ll explore this a little more. I will also include the “5 Myths of Open Source” as published in the Enterprise Open Source Journal.

As always, I welcome your comments and clarifications in this post. And, thank you for taking the time to read through this.

Patrick.

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