How Open Source Software Benefits Businesses
In today’s technology-driven, fast-moving business environment, more companies are choosing to invest in open source software. Open source offers many advantages to businesses: a quicker pace of innovations, strong support from a large and enthusiastic community, and freedom from vendor lock-in.
For many, open source isn’t just about coding. It represents a way of life. An open source community celebrates and supports the idea that transparency, giving back to a community, sharing, and collaborating lead to developing better software—and quite possibly a better world.
Companies who choose open source are also some of the most successful in the world. Ninety-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies use open source software, according to the consulting firm BCG. And research from McKinsey found that the biggest differentiator setting apart the top 25 percent of the best performing companies was their adoption of open source.
Curious about whether the next technology move for your business should be open source? To help you make the best decision for your business, this guide will help you understand the benefits.
What is open source software?
First, let’s look at what open source software actually means.
Open source generally refers to software with code that is available to the public and free to use, meaning anyone can access, modify, and share the source code. Developers can take an existing application or program in the open source market, make improvements, add features that suit their needs, and share their modifications back into the community. Many open source projects begin with an idea or new way of solving a common problem that is shareable with the wider community for everyone’s benefit.
In contrast, closed source software, otherwise known as proprietary software, belongs to a company or individual that licenses the software and has sole rights to edit and distribute the code.
Open source software is everywhere today. Linux, an open source operating system, powers about 90 percent of the public cloud workload and is a key technology used in Amazon Web Services. Google’s Android is an open source mobile operating system that ran 71 percent of all smartphone usage in the beginning of 2021. As a content management system that powers more than 40 percent of the web, WordPress can attribute much of its growth to its open source roots and vitality of its open source community.
Busting myths about open source software
Some may hesitate to try open source software based on myths and misconceptions. Here’s why those don’t hold up.
Myth 1: Open source is only about cost savings
While open source software may be free to use in terms of price, some mistakenly believe the cost savings is the primary reason to go with open source. However, there are many other reasons open source can be the better choice overall for your business needs. These include access to a talented community of developers and the flexibility to integrate other pieces of technology as you see fit.
Myth 2: Open source is poorer quality
Something free seems like it must be inferior to a paid product. That can certainly be true, but for well-established, large-scale open source projects, often hundreds to thousands of developers dedicate their talents to ensure the quality of the software. The code goes through rigorous inspection, testing and review by the collective community.
Many of the highest performing, most reliable pieces of software in wide use today are open source. Besides Android and Linux, other popular open source software includes Mozilla Firefox, Magento, and LibreOffice.
Myth 3: Open source is less secure
The public nature of open source causes many to think it’s a security risk. However, open source software enjoys a large developer community that constantly monitors the code, closes security gaps, and fixes bugs. This results in code that is secure and stable. Compare this to proprietary software that has a limited number of employees dedicated to code security. A 2021 survey by Red Hat found that 89 percent of IT leaders at companies worldwide believed open source software was just as secure or more secure than proprietary software.
Additionally, for closed-source products, consumers don’t have a view into code security, and a vendor may take weeks or even months to release a patch for a known security issue.
Benefits of open source for businesses
There are many good reasons why more companies are turning to open source software.
Expert developers continuously monitor and improve open source software, catching and fixing bugs in a collaborative effort. This leads to stable, reliable, and performant software that works across a variety of different use cases and environments.
A dedicated and vibrant community of users and developers is the backbone of any successful open source project. That community brings built-in support, codebase longevity, and continuous introduction of new features by developers. The passionate individuals that rally around an open source project are some of the best developers in the world, too—a talent pool you can tap when looking to expand your team.
Flexible and extensible
There are multiple ways to solve problems with open source software and a wider ecosystem that supports it. You can extend the software to meet specific business needs as they arise or create something yourself, which brings innovations to market faster. Case in point: the WordPress open source ecosystem features thousands of existing plugins, integrations, and other assets to draw from, helping companies launch great digital experiences faster.
No vendor lock-in
Companies using open source software enjoy the freedom of picking and choosing the best pieces of software for their needs. Open source software is usually compatible with a wide variety of products, both closed and open source, regardless of vendor. Proprietary software locks you into using products from the same vendor for the lifetime of that technology, often a costly situation.
Open source software is attractive for many businesses because there are no up-front costs to download the code and start working with it. Additionally, overall costs for the development of products are lower because part of the development and maintenance load is shared with a community beyond the company.
Available source code leads to greater longevity and stability of the open source product, as it can’t be phased out like proprietary software, which is at the mercy of a commercial vendor.
Open source communities promote collaboration and giving back. That means users have much more say and direct influence over the direction of software. As a result, many open source projects are user-oriented, lean, and have fewer unnecessary features that tend to bloat proprietary products.
Why contributing to open source can benefit your company
Giving back to open source pays off, too. Companies who contribute to the open source community reap 100 percent more value from their software investment when compared to companies who simply use the software without contributing, according to a Harvard Business School study.
Some have even established dedicated open source programs. Microsoft, Netflix, Meta, and Shopify actively contribute to open source software. By aligning with the developer community and encouraging employee participation in open source, organizations enjoy these benefits:
Helping employees obtain new skills and training
By participating in open source projects, employees improve their coding and problem-solving skills and also gain exposure to new languages, libraries, and developer tools as they work and rub shoulders virtually with developers around the world. In effect, it’s free training that helps build valuable skill sets. Through open source contributions, a company gains a deeper grasp of a particular piece of software and how to improve it for their own application.
Influencing software development
Instead of waiting for code fixes or wondering when and if software features will ever be released by proprietary software owners, companies that take the open source route enjoy direct influence over the direction of a project, assigning active contributors to work on it. Even non-developers can influence priorities by making feature requests, voting for changes, and contributing to documentation, marketing, and other efforts.
Recruiting and attracting talent
Companies active in open source communities meet skilled developers who are passionate about the software they work on—it’s a great talent network to recruit and hire from. In turn, organizations dedicated to open source are very attractive to developer job seekers.
Fostering a motivated workforce
The top three reasons for contributing to open source include the need for a feature or fix, the joy of learning, and creative and work fulfilment, according to the 2020 FOSS Contributor Survey. By providing a way for employees to contribute, companies invest in their well being and happiness.
Choosing open source
Deciding to invest in a piece of software is no easy task.
Investment takes staffing, time, and financial resources, with repercussions for years to come. Ultimately, the best product for your business, whether proprietary or open source, depends on the unique needs of your company. But the exciting growth of open source software has led to many innovative and high-quality products in the marketplace. Add the multiple business benefits of open source and you have compelling reasons why open source software should be on your shortlist of software for consideration.
To learn more how open source CMS software can benefit your organization, request a demo of WordPress VIP today.
Derrick Tennant, Senior Software Engineer, WordPress VIP