Thu Mar 17 2022

The Value of Open Source

Read about some of the main value propositions for open source software and what motivates companies to adopt and support open source software development. This post was originally written as part of a series I prepared for training new team members on supporting's cloud platform.

The value of open source

Open source software is free to use and modify however you need. There are no licensing fees or requirements, and open source projects often have larger communities of developers and supporters than private companies developing closed source software. Open source projects also have the same or better quality and support than closed source software because of their passionate communities of supporters.

Free to use and modify

Free and open source software often gives users a ready made solution for their problems immediately. They do not have to go through a sales cycle, sign contracts, make purchases, or otherwise make a large commitment. If the software does not meet their needs, they have a better opportunity to contribute to the discussion around future features or changes in the software than a closed source software project. Companies that make closed source software are not beholden to their customers or users; however, an open source community depends on the consensus and input of users. There are several times in the history of open source software when the larger community in a project protected open source software from individual large companies that tried to take the software in a direction the rest of the userbase or community did not want. Closed source projects do not give users this kind of control.

No licensing fees or requirements

Open source software can generally be downloaded for free and used however you want if you have the skills and knowledge to deploy the software yourself. There are some open source software deployments that cloud or Software-as-a-Service providers sell, but they are not selling the software so much as they are selling an integrated system, hosting, or turnkey deployment for that software. Software, like OpenStack, can be deployed freely by anyone who wants to buy the hardware and gear required for a deployment.

It is not technically true that there are no requirements for open source software. There are not requirements on users of the software generally. There are, however, requirements in most open source licenses on projects that copy code from open source software projects. These requirements can range from simply attributing and crediting the other projects to having to make your own software competely open source.

Bigger, healthier communities

Healthy open source communities like OpenStack’s have hundreds or thousands of contributors and thousands of users utilizing the software. The free nature of open source software encourages users to adopt the software instead of a commercial or limited closed source solution. A larger userbase can support a larger ecosystem of services and software to further enhance the value of the core software. Users who enjoy and find value in the software are also more likely to contribute back to the software if they can. Open source software projects are great at providing opportunities for passionate users to give back to the community and to further develop their own skills and abilities, often to the direct benefit of their own employer or organization. Many users of open source software projects often make enhancements to or customize the software to meet their individual use cases; these changes are often fed back upstream to the project. Open source projects also have the same or better quality and support than closed source software because of their passionate communities of supporters.