In a previous blog post we talked about Open Source and security, and we showed how accessibility and visibility of code can make it more secure.
There is another – and more important – advantage in using Open Source programs: the sustainability of the software, and the freedom that goes with it.
By using a proprietary software, and having your data recorded and stored in a proprietary format, you aren’t really the owner of your files. You are locked with a vendor, and subject to its whims concerning changes and version updates. Each time the vendor provides a new version of the software, you are practically forced to upgrade (and pay the price for it), lest be unable to access your data due to incompatibilities with older versions.
This is a strong point against proprietary software, also because the incompatibilities are not only forced on versions of the same software but also on the software towards public standards. For instance, when developing the first versions of Windows, Microsoft deliberately crippled it so it could only run on its MS-DOS and not on the competing DR-DOS. More recently, Microsoft has been harshly criticized (and in some cases, brought to court) for introducing features in browsers, network protocols and Java technology that broke compatibility with existing products or standards. These features have the sole purpose of establishing and maintaining a walled garden, forcing the Microsoft user to stay with Microsoft, and perpetuate the monopoly.
There is another risk inherent to proprietary formats that must be taken into strong consideration, especially with smaller software houses: should the vendor fail and get out of business, you’ll find yourself with unreadable data — unless you find a way to reverse engineer all the meaningful content out of it.
On the other hand, Open Source software focuses on the interoperability and durability of systems by establishing an open platform. You have freedom of choice on the software to use, with the peace of mind that the software will be maintained as long as the community is using it; when a software is discontinued, it’s because a better one takes its place. And in the rare case you still need the former, you have the source code, so you can continue using and modifying the software for your needs.
This is true concerning formats, too: by choosing an open format to save your data you’ll be sure to be able to access it always and forever. This because you’ll have a vast choice of off-the-shelf programs to use to operate on it, and even be able to write your own software.
While the quality of Open Source software obviously differs, most Open Source software is stable, efficient, professionally written, and perfectly apt to be used in an enterprise environment. Linux, for instance, is used in CERN labs and particle accelerators and onboard the ISS. If it’s good enough to be used in a space station, it’s good enough for your business.