Open source is a widely adopted approach to technology, powering many platforms that millions of people globally use every day. It boasts a deeply active community with a passion for the open source mission. However, there are still detractors across industries who wonder if open source is really the best option, or even a viable one, for their project or platform. In many ways, these doubts stem from — and contribute to — many myths surrounding open source technology.
Some of these misconceptions may be rooted in legitimate concerns about security or performance, while others seemingly arise out of fear of the unknown, or even an inclination to dismiss ideas that might be considered “too good to be true.” Conventional, proprietary technology offers a perceived source of ownership and accountability. For many IT managers, there is a sense of confidence in knowing that a platform has worked in the past. Thus, myths surrounding open source technology are just that — myths, and can easily be dispelled. In this blog post, we’ll address — and debunk — some of the most common misconceptions about open source technology.
Open Source is Less Secure than Proprietary Software
The misconception that open source software is prone to vulnerability is an easy one to understand. After all, literally anyone can take a look through any open source software and see how things work, from the strongest to weakest code. However, little truth resides within this myth, because this “vulnerabilty” is actually one of the biggest strengths of open source software: the “open” part is deliberate.
In other words, the ability to check out source code empowers developers to find and address security issues far more quickly than in proprietary software. Conversely, users of proprietary software must rely on a third-party vendor or developer, often a licensed one, to address bugs or vulnerabilities in code. Another weakness of this myth is that hacking or “breaking” code doesn’t require an individual to see the source code. A talented hacker is likely to have tools that detect vulnerabilities automatically.
This is not to suggest that open source software is more secure than proprietary software. However, there is a lack of evidence to indicate that an IT manager should categorically disqualify either option. Each software has its strengths, and decision-makers should thoroughly weigh the pros and cons as part of a standard due diligence when assessing a software solution. It should be noted open source does hold what many consider to be a trump card — the open source community, which facilitates peer review from a diverse set of developers who are motivated by more than profit to improve source code.
Open Source is Difficult to Maintain
It can be said this myth is the flip-side of the previous one. It is, at times, assumed that open source code, which could potentially be the product of hundreds of developers, will be too unwieldy to maintain. However, this is far from true. There will always be motivation to maintain and improve open source code. Furthermore, a wealth of sophisticated open source project management tools exists [NC1] to ensure that source code contributions are documented and traceable. In other words, open source is inherently transparent. The open source model addresses this issue before it becomes an obstacle.
Another strength of open source is its longevity. Far from being a one-and-done body of work, open source code can live on after the relationship with your developer has ended. Independent vendors are available to offer support for open source code, which is often very difficult to achieve with proprietary code, as you would not need to wait for your proprietary vendor to address issues. In effect, open source software may be maintained even if the developer has shifted focus or raised their rates or is no longer in business.
Open Source is a Trend
It can be quite easy to label any new technology as a trend, but open source clearly stands out among the pack. Contrary to the idea that open source is a flash in the pan, the future is looking bright for open source. Studies by organizations such as Gartner have concluded that open source has staying power. The Linux Foundation, for example, pioneered a survey that found an increasing number of large technology companies are establishing and nurturing open source best practices to drive productivity.
The report found that more than half of respondents across all industries surveyed work with an organization that uses open source software programs or has plans to establish one; moreover, the report’s authors predict that the number of enterprise companies using open source will triple by 2020. Perhaps, just as importantly, more kinds of software are becoming open, and it is not just software related to websites. Conferences are now being designed around open source data center management and open source cryptocurrency [NC2] repositories. Finally, open source experts have predicted that open source will become an integral part of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Open Source Is Not Ready for Prime Time
Some of the most well-known tech companies in the world like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Reddit and Twitter, as well world-class institutions such as Harvard University and the New York Stock Exchange, use open source technology. It is reported Google relies on the open source Android operating system to power a significant part of their business.
Open source is also demonstrating its gravitas where it matters — in dollars. In 2018, the most significant acquisition of an open source–based company occurred, when IBM acquired Red Hat for $34 billion. In 2018, open source tallied $57 billion worth of M&A and IPO value, and Markets and Markets released a report estimating that the open source services market will be worth $32.95 billion by 2022, at a growth rate of approximately 24%. Clearly, industry is embracing open source.
The myths about open source platforms are rooted in a lack of information or misunderstanding about the technology and its design and uses. This is to be expected, as any new, emerging technology is likely to raise skepticism. Yet, it must overcome such obstacles to stay relevant and respected. And open source technology has done just that — its widespread adoption, as well as the passion for open source that so many developers espouse, speaks for itself.
We believe every IT manager should embrace due diligence when adopting or considering a new platform or technology. Every choice has benefits and drawbacks, and it’s incumbent upon decision-makers to make informed choices. Upon completion of even minimal research, we are confident technology professionals will understand why so many developers are so passionate about open source.