The pros and cons of open source software at the enterprise level

The pros and cons of open source software at the enterprise level

In 2015 Google told the world that it would not be charging developers to gain access to its revolutionary artificial intelligence engine TensorFlow. The worldwide software community was in shock. TensorFlow powers many Google products including the company’s cloud photo software, Google Photos. The engine is so intelligent you can type words such as: cat, flowers, even graveyard, and it will display photos with those elements without them being tagged. This means the engine can essentially read the image like a human. Google enabled access to the software through the open source community for them to learn from it and improve on it.

With mega companies such as Google giving away the software that powers their innovation, the question comes to mind: should CIOs be giving open source software more attention? If Google puts out software for businesses to use should they be using it? Or finding a better version to license? The debate on open source vs proprietary software is an ongoing one. Often the thought of implementing open source software at a medium to enterprise level business is considered complex, unproven and risky. But is this an old way of thinking?

In this article we take a look at the pros and cons of open source software solutions in business and how it may apply to CIOs.

And, as is the case in all debates, we open the forum up to you, our readers. We want to hear about your experiences using open source software in your business and what difference, if any, it’s made to you.

Open source software vs Proprietary software: What’s the difference?

Open source software is software that’s released under a licence by the creator. It gives permission for people to study, change and distribute the software to anyone for any reason. It’s through collaboration within the open source community that new innovations in software are made, bugs are fixed and programs are made more user-friendly. Popular open source products used in business include content management system Drupal (it’s used by the White House) and operating system Linux, which Fujitsu runs on.

Proprietary software is developed by a company and can only be edited by that company’s in-house developers. Usually when using proprietary software you will agree to a licence saying you cannot edit anything without express permission from the authors of that software. Examples of this are the Adobe suite and Microsoft Office. Just a few years ago an Adobe Photoshop license would cost thousands of dollars, instead today you can pay on a monthly subscription fee. However, this can get very expensive if your company requires more than one licence.

Open source software for business: Pros

  • Lower cost
    Proprietary software can be expensive to lease, especially if you have many users. Open source software is often free if not a lot cheaper than its proprietary counterpart. For example, if someone in your company needs to re-size images once a month, is it worth getting a licence for Adobe Photoshop? Instead using open source software GNU Image Manipulation Software could be a more cost-effective solution. It can do the same thing and it’s free.
  • Customisation
    Open source software gives you the ability to tweak and change things to better suit your own company. Some proprietary software, such as Salesforce, gives you the ability to customise your experience. It’s up to your company to employ a specific role to maintain and implement the changes. With open source software you have an entire community at your fingertips who have, most likely, already invented the solution you’re looking for.

  • Agile
    As mentioned above, open source software has a large community working together to improve products in real-time. This enables them to be agile when keeping up with industry trends. Proprietary software is limited to its internal resources to keep up to date.

  • Integration
    Collaboration is key and in our increasingly connected world integration is everything. Open source software promotes integration and has many developers who will work to have their products integrate with the software. More often than not proprietary software is locked up and can be a challenge to link into. Luckily APIs are becoming more and more common and this is likely to be less of an issue in the years to come.

  • Fast fixes
    Bugs, glitches and design flaws are fixed rapidly in open source software. Again, this is because the vast open source community has access to the source code to amend any issues.
  • Security
    There are many misconceptions about the security of open source software. Some argue that malicious code can be embedded in the code. It can, just like all software. There’s an argument that says major issues will be uncovered and fixed quicker as there’s a larger community working on open source projects.

Open source software for business: Cons

  • Support
    Probably the biggest benefit of proprietary software is the responsibility that lies with the company that licenses the software to you. This means if it ceases to work, has a bug or someone is struggling to use it, there is a direct line of support to help with your situation. Open source has a community, but it’s no one’s direct job to help you.

  • Warranties and liability
    Many open source software options have warranties and liabilities. But not all. All proprietary software comes with a warranty and liability factor. This can mean a lot for enterprise software procurement policies!

  • Not always perfect for enterprise level
    While open source software is scalable, it’s not always designed for the robust needs and levels of business at an enterprise level. For example, it may not pass the strict security needs of large corporations. In some cases, proprietary level software will.

Final thoughts

CIOs should broaden their approach to open source software solutions if they want to remain agile in their field. And most of the time there will be a sound comparable open source option over a proprietary one, but it may not be the best choice for your company. It’s essential to review a project’s needs and scope and checking in with the software procurement policy before making a final choice. Get the latest information about open source and proprietary software by downloading the CeBIT CIO Summary Report 2016 today.

CeBIT Australia CIO Summary Report