I DARE YOU !! – on using Open Source Software

Open Source vs. Closed Source

I DARE YOU - on the subject of Open Source Software


Open Source software has since the beginning of time, been bashed by the commercial world including the public sector. One has to ask one self why that is. I do recognize that lack of quality can be one of the reasons - at least from a FUD perspective. But is that really the whole story ?

But I DARE YOU!! In the ever changing world where old players becomes dead players (Kodak, Enron etc.) faster than you can say kaboom. In the ever changing world where new and fast moving startups can hurt old and kapital rich companies so much and so fast that noone sees it coming before it is too late. In the ever changing world how can you, as a responsible employee (or company owner) put all of you business in a vendor (read: vendor's product) when you essentially do not know if they will be here tomorrow ? And if the vendor, and it's products will be gone tomorrow, how can you ensure continuity of your business ?

Now I hope I got you attention. Before I move on let me set the scene for this post.

Setting the scene

In the following I will use Open Source Software to describe a piece of software where the source code has been made publicly available and that a diverse eco-system exists around the software and the source code in particular. I specifically do not refer to maginalized one-man (company) projects where no eco-system (to speak of) exists.

Let us, for the arguments sake assume that for all companies of today there will be a split of IT spend on hardware, software, personell and facilities. In most scenarios there will be no difference (to speak of) to the hardware and facilities spend when choosing between open and closed source software. This leaves the software and personell spends as the ones in scope for this post.

Closed Source software

When operating critical parts of you business on Closed Source Software you buy into a number of major promises which I argue can be summarized as the following:

  • A vendor will ensure the proper functioning of the software for as long as the vendor exists.
  • A "guarantee" (insurance) that the vendor will stand behind the software and how it has been promised to function.
  • A single vendor can make changes to the software that you use. This can be based on you requirements, or it might not, the vendor decides.
  • If the vendor disappears, so does the ability to change the software

Open Source Software

On the other hand, when you oprate you critical business on Open Source Software I would argue that these are the promises that you buy into:

  • The eco-system around the software supports the proper functioning of the software for as long as the ecosystem exists.
  • The eco-system will, at best effort, stand behind the proper functioning of the software
  • Anyone in the eco-system can make changes to the the software. This might be based on you requirements, or not, the eco-system decides.
  • The ability to change the software will stay as long as there is an eco-system to support it.

Adopting Open Source Software

As is probably obvious fromt the two paragraphs above the major difference is wether any promises comes from vendor or an eco-system. Needless to say that you, as a company or individual, can be part of any of the open source eco-systems. What is also clear is that you cannot descide by yourself if you can become a part of any vendor. A vendor might or might not have a process whereby you can have a well defined process for putting changes into their software. The big difference here is that the eco-system on the open source software will allow you to influence both the features and functions at the specification level and at the source code level. A vendor will only allow you to influence on the features and functions at the specification level.

In this fast changing world with disruptions, ellimination of traditionnal business modes etc. you, as a company, should think hard and long about what level of risk you are willing to accept. To put things a bit on the sharp end, what would happen to your company if a vendor like Microsoft, IBM or Oracle would seize to exist in lets say 6 months from now ?. Binary versions of the software would still be around but there will be no further security fixes, no further changes based on specifications. What might persist will be the eco-system around the use of the software based on exising features and functions.

If you look at that other side of that sharp end. The same thing would not happen to an open source product.  Yes, you might have a product that will eventually be without it's eco-system, and yes, some eco-systems might be harder to work with than other. One thing is for sure though, you will be able to have security fixes, feature and function changes  done even if it comes at some expence and/or inconvenience.

As a company I dare you to start thinking about how you can lower you operational risk by adopting more open source software. By using some (or all) of the money that used to go into closed software to hire your own people and have them actively participate in the open source eco-systems that are of importance to you. Essentially what I am proposing is to "reallocate" money from the "software" spend and put them in the "personell" spend in sted. As most open source projects say "Code Speaks". Having someone in you company who can actively participate in projects and contribute real code will go a long way of ensuring your influence.

As a final note think about how 1$ in spending can help your company in the different scenarios. 1$ spent on closed source will help the vendor on his mission, where 1$ spent on open source will help you on your mission. If this is not something to think about .. I do not know what is ??

Call for action

What are your thoughts on Open Source ?

What can you do to promote it's use beyond what it is now in your company ?

Please reach out to let me know in the comments .. and also ... please, challenge me if you believe that I have completely lost it .

- Jens



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