First, let’s define what open source is and dispel some myths. Open source software is sometimes referred to as free software. “Free” in this case means freedom to do as you wish with the software, not price. As Richard Stallman, founder of Free Software Foundation states, “Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech’, not as in ‘free beer’!” Eloquently put!
Open source, or free software, has four basic components:
- Freedom to run the program for any purpose
- Freedom to change it to make it do what you wish
- Freedom to redistribute copies
- Freedom to improve the program and release improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public
So if the software you acquire, whether for a price or not, adheres to these four principles, it’s open source software. Proprietary software does not give the recipient the ability to make changes to it or, for the most part, the ability to redistribute it.
So, if both the open source and proprietary applications do what you need them to do; choosing between them comes down to two aspects- security, and total cost of ownership (TCO). Open source men claim their approach produces more secure and less buggy software. Their viewpoint has validity. The fact that the source code is available to everyone means there are more eyeballs to review the code and improve the code. While the argument might be that it also opens it to hackers, hackers are less motivated knowing there’s a wide community ready and able to fix flaws. Also, open source has a vast community of individuals familiar with the basic software, but you suddenly become more reliant on them. Assuming you are not a developer, having folks on hand to support and modify the software can become costly. On the flip side, proprietary software from an established company has a network of individuals certified to support it. But you generally have to pay for maintenance and support, and proprietary software typically goes through frequent updates that mean obsolescence of earlier versions and required upgrades, even if you don’t need the additional features.
In general, if proprietary does not satisfy your needs with minimal changes out of the box, open source is your better choice.