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10 common myths about open source

There are a lot of myths surrounding open source, and over the years we've heard them all. In this post, we address some of the most common misconceptions people have about open source software, and explain why some of the world's largest and most trusted organisations opt for open source solutions.

1. Open source is less secure

A major barrier to organisations considering open source software is the fear of risk because the source code is openly available to anyone and in turn, open to threats from the black hat hacker community. However, the wide accessibility of code can actually facilitate early detection of vulnerabilities and lead to a more secure product. Unlike proprietary software, you are working on the same code with hundreds (if not more) of other capable software developers and when it comes to both security and quality, the more sets of eyes you have on your code the more likely you are to find issues.

2. Open source is free

The term 'free' in free open source software refers to freedom, not monetary cost. While open source provides organisations with lots of choice and freedom, that doesn’t mean it is totally free. It relates to breaking ‘free’ from old constraints to deploy at your own pace to mitigate any risks and costs that are commonly associated with vendor lock-in.
While open source software with zero support can be obtained at no cost, it may not be a finished product. Costs are incurred for the development of feature enhancements, maintenance and support.

3. Open source isn’t licensed

False. Open source licenses are essentially terms of use and not items to be purchased, as can be the case for proprietary software. There are a variety of open source licence models, where each licence model has specific terms for the use and modification of code.  

An open source vendor can charge you for a software licence and still be open source. There is not necessarily a direct relationship between a type of license and what you have to pay to obtain it. The ‘free’ part means that you have the freedom to access the source code and change it yourself providing you abide by the terms of the license.

4. Big software companies don’t use open source

Open source software has been in commercial use since the mid-1990s. It is used by small and large organisations across various industries including those for whom security is a priority. Among the big names using open source software are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, IBM, Reddit, Wikipedia, McDonald's, London Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, Audi, BMW, Peugeot and Dreamworks. 9 out of 10 Wall Street banks use it.

5. Open source software comes without support

Just because open source software doesn’t come with a 24/7 help desk, doesn’t mean you are on your own. In fact, many open source software products have at least one (and sometimes several) companies selling support services.

When open source first entered the software scene in the 90s, enterprise developers were at the mercy of the development community for support. However, over the years, the swift adoption of open source software in the enterprise has created a demand for stable open source distributions and comprehensive maintenance and support. Third-party providers, such as Totara Learning’s partner network, offer safety nets for businesses deploying open source software by packaging stable builds with technical support, development advice and rapid fixes that respond to changes to the open source code.

6. Open source means poor quality/not reliable

'You get what you pay for' may be good advice when it comes to choosing a restaurant, but it does not ring true in software. Because of its crowd-sourced development model, open source code often has fewer bugs and becomes more flexible and reliable with each passing week. There may be as many bugs in open source as much as proprietary code, but the fact remains that there will be more developers in the case of the former on a debugging trail.

7. Open source software is too technical

In its early days, open source software had an unfounded reputation for being less than user friendly. Those days are long gone! From web browsers and icons to digital photography, making movies, and all kinds of video games, there's an easy-to-use, open source solution for just about everything.

8. Open source companies do not own their intellectual property

This is a misconception. The truth is that open source software is subject to the same copyright laws as closed-source software, but open source software suppliers choose to share their IP with others. As a result, products are brought to market faster, open source software cannot be monopolised and not one organisation can control the price for support and services for open source solutions. The competition who provide support services at an attractive price make it more cost-effective for customers.

9. Open source is just the latest fad

If it’s a fad it’s pretty durable, since it’s been around for over 20 years and heavily commercialised for at least the last 10. Open source was first investigated by Cabinet Office as early as 2001, and in 2002 it was considered necessary to have an explicit policy on the use of OSS within UK Government. A variety of studies have shown exponential growth patterns in the open source sector across a wide range of measures.

10. Open source software is incompatible with proprietary software

Open source software products interoperate with other software in the same way that proprietary software does. Industry standards facilitate this, and typically open source software implements open industry standards as well as (or in some cases better than) proprietary alternatives. Most enterprise-class open source products can run on both open source and proprietary operating systems (including Microsoft Windows) and can talk to both open source and proprietary databases.

To help bust some of these common myths, we've created an infographic. If you want to help set the record straight on open source software, why not share this infographic with your own networks?

Totara Learning open source myths infographic

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