The Benefits of Open Source Software
Why should you be interested in using Open Source Software?
Chances are that you are already using Open Source software as many of today's cornerstone programs in the online world are Open Source applications. Many online booking and reservation systems, online shops and the ubiquitous search engine Google rely heavily on Open Source software components.
The quality of these programs has been proven to be reliable, stable, mature and feature-rich by many users world-wide, so that i.e programs such as the Apache web server, the MySQL database server, the PHP programming language, the OpenOffice document suite, the Firefox web bowser and many more have become the commodity software on which numerous other customised software solutions for businesses are being built. This success has its foundation in the way Open Source software is developed and distributed.
But what are the most important benfits of Open Source software for me?
Most people think of Open Source software as software with no license cost at all. This is correct because it is a de-facto consequence of the four freedoms nearly all Open Source software licenses value and try to protect as much as possible. Firstly, Open Source software can be distributed freely, which means that to get a copy you do not have to pay a license fee. And there are no restrictions on the intended use of the software, too. You can legally copy the software to as many computer systems as you like and you can use it for commercial as well as for non-commercial purposes, without the need to buy any license. All these rights are guaranteed by the Open Source software licenses, most notably the GPL (Gnu Public License) and her many cousins.
But there are three more freedoms that enable you to derive specific benefits from using the software. The ability to inspect the source code of the software is the only way to find out what the software really does. This is critical for security relevant software but is also essential to ensure the quality of performance. To be able to look at how things are being done, guarantees that no hidden malfunction gets implemented in the software product. Of course it takes experts to assess the source code, due to the complexity of most programs the ordinary user is unable to do this himself. But crucial applications usually are being developed by a community of people who have a keen eye on everything new in the program's code base, which usually ensures a high level of quality.
Another essential advantage is the right to modify the software, which ensures that once the software does not meet your needs, you can simply develop new features and adopt the software to suit your requirements. As a software user you would never enjoy this kind of flexibility with commercial software. Open Source software can be changed to meet your requirements and expectations and therefore will be the most tailored and simply the better software solution for you, no matter how specialized your requirements are.
But I cannot modify Open Source software myself.
The development circle of Open Source software is very short. If there are many users involved as developers in an Open Source project somebody may urge the neccessity for improving the software in the same way you wish to and begins working on it. Sometimes waiting for the next release settles the case of a missing feature. Sometimes a different software component can be plugged into the program with little effort to complement a software solution.
In any case, your IT budget is better spent on training your staff, analysing your business procedures and assessing the suitability of an Open Source software for your business than on buying commercial licenses with no better support services than most Open Source service providers can deliver.
In short, Open Source software is the better system for you, too.