Open vs Closed Software

18 05 2008

In recent years, I have seen a lot of people (including myself) begin to switch from proprietary/closed products & services to the more ‘open’ alternatives. Now more then ever there is a strong push for companies across the globe to move toward open standards. Unsurprisingly however, many of the big corporations are reluctant do so.

Since this issue keeps popping up, I figured I should give a shot at outlining the pros and cons of both Open & Closed source software. Hopefully this will help developers make an informed decision on what’s best for them, and users can decide which type of software they would rather support the development of.

Open Source
PROS:
Expedited Development (large diverse group of programmers available to contribute to the program at almost any given time, usually at no cost other than a mention in the credits)
Freedom & Creativity (Programmers are able to focus on contributing their own ideas to their own area(s) of expertise rather than following a predefined design set out by an employer. Also speeds up development)
Minimal Development Costs (a community of programmers contribute their own section of code, usually free of charge)
Ongoing Updates & Improvements (new features and improvements are constantly being added on by developers, helping to ensure a bug free stable software platform that is also feature-full)
Many users prefer open source software over closed software (as it is usually free without DRM restrictions, and is also open for additions or customizations to the program to fit the user’s needs

CONS:
Loss of commercial value, hard to make profit from (a part from donations)
Can lead to loss of quality standards (e.g. a contributor to the program could add something very useful, but may leave out basic components like a user friendly GUI. In other words, contributors/programmers are faced with less expectations/requirements than they would be in a company environment)
Loss of control (companies who release their software under Open Source licenses give almost full control of the software development to the community of users & developers, making it difficult to keep development under control and making sure it fits the company’s image and doesn’t hurt its reputation)
Software may end up being a series of pieces rather than a whole puzzle

Closed Source
PROS:
Control (Gives developer(s) complete control over the software development. Developer(s) can still take in suggestions from users, but aren’t compelled to add certain features if they are viewed as unnecessary or unwanted, also gives more control over quality standards and overall design)
Profit (Better chance of earning profit through sales & making the software a business success)
Gives developer(s) more control over how the software is distributed
Complete Puzzle (Program is whole, complete & uniform rather than a composition of several different pieces of code)

CONS:
Significant Development Costs (Time = Money! Programmers and program designers have to be hired rather than having a community full of programmers volunteer for the project)
Longer Development Times (As I said earlier, Time = Money. With less programmers on the project and more standards, restrictions, and guidelines set by the company, development can take much longer)
Users must work with what the program has rather than making the program work with what they have (Users are forced to work around the limitations of the software instead of having the option to extend or manipulate the software’s code to make improvements, customizations, or other custom changes)

Bottom line: If you are a developer and you want to make money off your software, Open Source is probably not the way to go unless you want to live off donations. On the other hand if money isn’t your ultimate goal but you want your program to be a great success, Open Source could be the key to promoting the project and gaining public interest.

If you’re a user, Open Source on many levels is a better alternative to the costly commercial software out there. For example, instead of paying $900 for Photoshop, consider The GIMP as a free alternative with almost as many features with a unique creative user interface for accomplishing tasks. However it is sometimes advantageous to have the commercial (closed) product for compatibility, stability, and/or tech support reasons.

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