Why Free/Open Source Software is Better Business

by noospheer

In today’s software-laden world there remain two general release models: open source and proprietary. Open source implies that the code that makes a given piece of software run is available for programmers to read, edit and redistribute. Proprietary implies that such code is hidden. There is a plethora of different open source licenses that developers can release their works under, each dictating what a coder may or may not do with the source code in question.

In the business community there is a widely held conception of open source as a hippy ideology: share the inner workings of our favorite technologies and love will one day reign supreme. While this is true, even the most ruthless corporate execs should take a second look at the protection, recognition, robustness, interoperability and time/resource-efficiency that comes with free software.

  • Protection and recognition because open source licenses provide a copyright (or copyleft) for the work. If code is open, there is no incentive to reverse-engineer/create a copycat version under a different name.
  • Robust because open code is often well tested and improved upon by the community.
  • Interoperability because some open source licenses (such as GNU GPL) forbid linking to non-open software. Open source software also tends to adhere to open standards and APIs.
  • Time/resource-efficient because there’s no need to code the same module twice – if someone’s done the work and released it as open, you can use it.

Of course, the classic problem with open source is that it forces companies to be creative when it comes to making money. Although one can technically charge for open source software, this was more common practice in the olden days when distribution was often done using hard media such as floppies. Now that distribution is so cheap and easy online, open source tends to be free as in “free beer”. So, charging for licenses isn’t practical. Oracle charges $47,500 per processor running its flagship proprietary enterprise database – the company pulled in $35.6b in 2011. It’s currently locked in patent litigation battles with a number of tech giants.

For noospheer, we’re using a combination of licenses: LGPL for the database, API and GUI – FreeBSD for the quantum emulator. The first keeps the code open, but unlike the classic GPL allows for linking to proprietary software. The latter is considered ‘permissive’, and allows the code to be used in any context – even to be re-released as part of a proprietary software package.

Whatever the license, the future is clearly open. Here’s Linus Torvalds of Linux fame talking about startups and the advantages of open source.