Elixirr Digital

Whether or not you rely on open source software in your daily business activities at the moment, it’s crucial you’re aware of it and understand how it can help your business grow.

Open source software is, to put it simply, software made by the public and available for free.

There are so many projects out there being developed right now by volunteers all over the world and it’s changing the fundamental way businesses operate. Read on to find out more about what this means for your business.

1. Free to all

Any software that is made ‘open source’ by its creators is free for you to use for whatever you’d like. This means that if something open source is the perfect tool for you, you’ll enjoy lower costs than a premium alternative and no contracts or subscription plans holding you hostage to a closed eco-system.

Typically, open source software is licensed under either what is known as the GPL or MIT licenses which gives you the freedom to do what you like without posing any restrictions and terms on you for how and when you use it.

2. Safe and secure

In 2017, security is a big deal and there’s no denying that almost anything is prone to hacking attempts.

Open source software can still be affected, but due to the nature of how it’s made, it means that anyone from the public can contribute to building it. Not only does this mean that you can build feature rich applications, it means you get the security ideas from talented developers from all over the world.

The software is open for everyone to inspect and pull apart which means nothing can hide within the code to give you a nasty surprise later on.

3. Plugins, add-ons and extensions

The common adage is “if you want something done right, do it yourself”. Thankfully, that feature you wanted that doesn’t usually exist in the core product may well be available for free for you to add into the system if you so wish.

The idea that something is so easily customisable means that you can reshape the software into anything you want to use it for. It also means that you are able to make your own added extras and give back to the community of the project.

4. Familiar and flexible

Of course, there’s plenty of popular software tools out there that help you get your job done quickly and effectively. However, if you’re not using a well-known tool, you may make it harder for you and your organisation to pick things up and get the training to help them get up to speed.

The amount of paid software tools out in the wild is plentiful, and some are popular and well-documented but don’t let that fool you. Not all paid for products have helpful resources and support on hand if things go wrong.

Closed off, premium software can sometimes have poor and undocumented tools and features that are hard to understand. With a community of contributors on an open source project, you need not worry. Not everyone is a developer. Not everyone is a server administrator. Some people who want to contribute may be copywriters or even linguists.

It’s great having a super piece of software with all the bells and whistles, but not so great if there isn’t a help guide to get going or no one to translate it into a common language you might speak.

5. Quality

This touches on some previous points, but it’s very important to remember that with an open community of volunteers that build and maintain a piece of software can often come a stamp of guarantee that it adheres to current standards. Your data is kept safe and secure, which means you don’t have to worry about common hacking attacks. It’s audited and put through its paces to make sure it’s user friendly and works for people with disabilities and different systems.

What projects are Open Source?

There’s too many out there to list them all, but to name just a few. There is the ever so popular content management system that is used by millions of people all over the world, every single day; WordPress. The desktop operating system Linux, which is what the popular MacOS is based on! WebKit, built by Apple that is the engine that powers your web browsers like Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari. phpBB, one of the most well known communication tools available for forum based communities.

How can I get involved?

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to be a development ninja to contribute. Regardless of what your day to day job is, you can help in some way and the best way to do that is to just ask and find out what needs doing.

If you want to volunteer your time to learn something new, help out a stranger with a problem or something completely different to fill your Saturday evenings. Jump right in.

What are the disadvantages of open software?

As fantastic as open source software is, there are a couple of issues you may find with it. Firstly, open source means it’s free for people to use. That means you don’t get an income from it, but you can sell extras and perks if you want to. For the most part, you’ll be donating time and effort into something for free.

Secondly, it will take time to manage the project and steer it into the direction it needs to go. With a small team sat next to each other, it’s easy to get something finished without too much effort. Coordinating people from all over the world in different time zones speaking different languages with varying degrees of experience, you’re not going to be able to always get things done just by clicking your fingers.

Lastly, it relies on the will of you and others to keep pushing with the project and keep it alive. A premium product is able to continue due to funding but working on something without an incentive, you might find that the project has stagnated and is no longer worthy of any progress.

Now you know the challenges alongside the positives. If it all sounds good to you, then what are you waiting for? Find a project and get involved.

What are your favourite pieces of open source software? Are you currently involved in an open source project? Let us know in the comments section below.

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