Open Source Software (OSS) by definition must have a license that ensures the freedom to use, freedom to study, improve, and redistribute code from a project. I attended Mindtrek Openmind 2015 in Tampere, Finland to learn more about OSS. Specifically, I was interested in attending the sessions that were a part of the Open Source Business Track to find out how using OSS solutions are beneficial for businesses and organizations.
Software license fees from closed software solutions can increase for a number of reasons, all of which you will experience while your company grows: The need to support more users, more servers, more geographical areas. Open source avoids this issue, because the license is free. Technical scalability still applies, so you will still have to pay those servers to host you, but you won’t have the increased cost that you would see with a closed software solution.
“Wherever you want to take your business, you know your tech platform will go there”
– Ilkka Tengvall
OSS is highly adaptable to business needs. Mobile libraries tend to be small and single-purpose, which makes it easier to update iteratively and quickly. Integration, development, and testing of the OSS comes from many different contributing sources, resulting in more sound and reliable software. There is no inherent lock-in to a particular service and it is less trouble to change software suppliers along the way.
Bugs are tracked publicly, making them visible makes them much easier to assess. If there is a known bug, there is also likely an available known workaround. Also, having multiple contributors looking at code draws more attention to bugs in the first place. Fixes are continuously submitted to the OSS project; they are reviewed by the OSS owners and updates are published in real time.
When using a closed source solution, you become dependent on the product or corporation to make all changes. Updates are few and far between, and may cost extra. Bugs are impossible to address on your own and the price will increase as your needs grow.
Using OSS Is Not Free of Cost
While OSS is by definition ‘free’, it is not free of cost. In order to use OSS that results in a customized software solution, a business is required to hire developers — either internal employees or an external project partner — to adopt the libraries. Merely stringing together OSS libraries on your own will not result in a user-friendly, beautiful, and concise application.
Development work will be needed to determine the health of an OSS project, complete features, and customize the solution to business requirements with domain-specific logic. Developers will also need to assess the ease of support by the OSS for your particular use case. Integrating with backend services is another large portion of work, and all of this requires testing and bug-fixing.
That said, immediate savings can be had in terms of time used to complete development of a software solution as opposed to building an application from the ground up. Using OSS is ‘faster’ because it enables developers to complete features soundly and quickly. The benefits of this are best realized when working in a variable scope model.