Few advancements in modern technology have taken the world by storm as much as open-source software (OSS). Once the domain of geeks, idealists, computer scientists and activists, OSS has become a mainstream fact of life and given rise to a plethora of operating systems, technologies and applications that are often taken for granted.
However, becoming mainstream can sometimes mean a death sentence to a cause. All too often, “mainstream” becomes synonymous with “mundane.” And when something reaches that point, it often loses its appeal along with the very support that drove it to mainstream status.
So what about OSS? Is it just another fad that has become a victim of its own success? Or does it continue to be an important and valuable part of the industry?
To properly address that question, let’s first talk about what open source brings to the table.
The Open Source Advantage
Critics of OSS often see it solely from a dollars and cents perspective. In a market that’s often dominated by patents and trademarks, many companies and individuals don’t see a motivation to use — or invest in — something that, by definition, is given away for free. Other critics are suspicious of something more sinister. The literal underlying code of OSS, which can be viewed and modified by anyone, seems just a little too risky.
In many ways, however, these two factors are actually two of the strongest advantages of OSS. Because OSS is provided without the licensing cost of traditional software, it significantly lowers the barrier to entry both for end-users and for companies looking to use it as a framework for their own software. Enterprise-level capabilities that would be out of reach for smaller businesses may be more easily attainable when open source is considered.
Likewise, concern about the security of OSS, and the possibility of malicious code being inserted into it, is largely unfounded. In fact, OSS is often less vulnerable, specifically because so many people have looked at the code and helped improve it.
Lasse Andresen, CTO of ForgeRock, says:
“The truth is that with open source code, a diverse developer community works together to forge the initial solution, but they also work together to solve problems and produce new releases. The result? Fewer bugs and quicker fixes. Every type of software has its pros and cons. However, a concern about security is definitely not a valid reason to turn away from open source software.”
Current and Future Trends in the Information Age
Given the clear advantages open-source software boasts, there are some exciting developments currently underway that customers throughout the enterprise market will benefit from.
Eric Knorr, writing for InfoWorld, recently discussed nine trends likely to affect enterprise computing in 2015 and beyond. In his article, he talked about the public cloud, multi-cloud management, liquid computing and more. But here’s the most telling thing Knorr writes:
“A common thread runs through most of these nine trends: Open source is leading the way in technology development. It’s become the vehicle of choice for startups to gain traction, as customers — mainly developers within companies — take new technologies for a spin, provide feedback, and eventually put them into production.”
So What Does This Mean for the Average Enterprise Consumer?
Regardless of what new technology, application or service your organization adopts and implements, there’s a good chance that it will (at least in part) be based on OSS.
Even large companies are beginning to see the benefits of this. Microsoft recently shocked the industry by announcing plans to open source .Net. Why is this announcement so huge? Throughout the announcement, a major trend was bringing in more developers and targeting more platforms — capturing better functionality across more spaces. Although it wasn’t specifically mentioned, Microsoft will no doubt benefit from the added scrutiny that will come from open-sourcing .Net’s code. Certainly, at the very least, they’re benefits that will be felt by end-users across the globe.
In lieu of these developments, one thing is clear: OSS is anything but a mundane fad on the outs. While OSS is enjoying unprecedented success, that success is only driving even greater accomplishments, proving over and over again the value of OSS in today’s enterprise market.
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