Like many people, you’ve probably heard about open source software and are thinking about giving them a try. After all, why should you pay for Photoshop when you can edit and enhance pictures through Gimp? Why should you fork out money for Microsoft Office when you can enjoy almost the same features with LibreOffice? Why should you spend a substantial amount on the Windows operating system when you can do your work in Ubuntu?
However, you have to realize that using open source software is not all milk and honey. Before you jump into the bandwagon and download the products you’ve been eyeing on, do your homework and find out if open source software is worth your while. Start your research by going through these lists:
List of Advantages of Open Source Software
1. Cheaper than commercially marketed products.
According to studies, open source software collectively help business owners save around $60 billion a year. This might seem unbelievable at first, but it’s not really surprising since these programs are developed to be accessible to anyone (especially those who can’t afford to buy commercial products). For one thing, they’re usually offered for free and don’t require you to pay for any additional copy you download. Since many of these programs are created to work with almost any type of computer, they can also help you lengthen the life of your old hardware and avoid the need to replace them every now and then.
2. Created by skillful and talented people.
Large and well-established software companies have the financial capability to hire the best talent in the business to create their products. Because of this, many people opt to buy computer programs from these firms because they think they’ll get great value for their money by doing so.
The fact that big companies hire experienced, fully trained and highly qualified people is true. But what consumers have to know is this: not all software developers care deeply about money. Sure, most of them do get a job to have a steady income and be able to financially support themselves and their family. However, a lot of these experts don’t just base their worth on the salary they earn; rather, they strive to build a program that will earn the admiration of their peers and hopefully make a difference in the world.
This is why many software developers turn to open source products as an outlet for their ideas and creativity. By doing so, they won’t be confined by the rigid rules of the corporate world, and they’ll have the freedom to experiment and come up with high-quality programs. These, in turn, benefit consumers since they’ll have access to world-class and state-of-the-art software without having to pay too much.
3. Highly reliable.
There are two main reasons why open source software are reliable. First of all, they’re developed chiefly by skillful and talented experts who do their best to create high-quality programs. Second, they’re worked on by tens or hundreds of people, which means there are numerous eyes that can monitor for the presence of bugs and many pairs of hands that can fix these defects within the shortest amount of time. Both of these factors lead to products that have excellent quality and helpful features and perform well most (if not all) of the time.
4. Help you become more flexible.
Since you’re not tied to a proprietary product, you don’t need to abide by a specific IT architecture that might require you to upgrade your software and even hardware often. Rather, you can mix and match your software and create a unique IT infrastructure that best suits your needs. There’s no need to fret since there’s a wide range of options in the market, so you only have to browse through them and pick one those that match your requirements and specifications. Can’t find anything you like? You can modify existing open sources software or hire someone who can do it for you.
List of Disadvantages of Open Source Software
1. Vulnerable to malicious users.
Many people have access to the source code of open source software, but not all of them have good intentions. While a lot of people utilize their access to spot defects and make improvements to the program, others use this privilege to exploit the product’s vulnerabilities and create bugs that can infect hardware, steal identities or just annoy other users. These rarely happen with commercially produced software since the companies who make them have stringent quality control processes and ensure that the program is almost perfect when released to the market.
2. Might not be as user-friendly as commercial versions.
This is not true for all open source software since many of them (such as LibreOffice, Mozilla Firefox and the Android operating system) are incredibly easy to use. However, there are several programs which are created mainly to cater to the developer’s wishes and bring his ideas to life. As a result, not much attention is given to the software’s user interface, making it difficult to use especially for those who aren’t really tech-savvy.
3. Don’t come with extensive support.
Those who favor commercially produced programs say that these software gives them peace of mind. After all, since they know exactly who designed, created and distributed the product, they have a clear idea of who they can hold liable if the program doesn’t function properly or causes damage to their hardware. This isn’t exactly the case for open source software. Since it’s developed by numerous people, users exactly don’t have a specific person or company they can point a finger to.
But, before you get discouraged by this, it’s important to take note that major software firms also wash their hands of any responsibility. If you read their End User License Agreements, you’ll see that companies usually disclaim all liabilities and that the responsibility for the product falls on you, the user. These mean that you won’t really receive any support (nor hear someone else take the blame) when your software would incur problems and disrupt productivity. So, unless you’re willing to spend time and money on filing lawsuits and going after huge corporations, it’s better to use open source software and acknowledge the fact that their low cost and easy accessibility come with a trade-off.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.