Everything You Need to Know About Using Open Source Software in 2021
Have you ever tried your hands at software development? Or are you an entrepreneur who uses computer applications to carry out various business operations? In either case, chances are you’ve already dabbled with open-source software.
Whether you’re browsing the internet or developing a new website, you likely regularly use open-source software in your life. It isn’t surprising considering that roughly 96% of commercial software applications use open-source components.
Open-source software offers a wide array of benefits when compared with proprietary or on-the-shelf applications. However, you should be aware of the risks associated with open-source software before you start using it.
In this blog, we’ll explore the concept of open-source software in greater detail and weigh its pros and cons. Let’s get started.
Open-Source Software: A Closer Look
Simply put, open-source software refers to any software application that’s designed to be publicly accessible. In other words, its source code can be used, copied, shared, and modified by other users. It’s typically built and maintained by a community of skilled software developers.
One of the most common examples of open-source software is WordPress, the industry-leading content management system. WordPress users can readily access and modify its source code. This, in turn, makes it possible for them to tweak various WordPress features according to their needs and preferences.
Other examples of popular open-source tools include:
- Mozilla Firefox (web browser)
- Apache OpenOffice (office productivity software suite)
- GIMP (image editing tool)
- VLC (cross-platform media player)
- Linux (operating system)
Whether you’re a software developer or business owner, you’ve likely faced the dilemma of choosing between open-source software and proprietary applications more often than you can count.
In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the strengths and limitations of open-source software to determine whether it’s the right choice for you.
Benefits of Open-Source Software
The biggest advantage of using open-source tools is that most of them are available for free. This makes such software suitable for companies that don’t have the budget for developing sophisticated proprietary applications.
Also, they eliminate the need to build software applications from scratch. Instead, you can just modify the code of the open-source software to fit your needs. Integrating new features into such applications is easier, quicker, and hassle-free.
Let’s say you’re developing a website on WordPress. Instead of designing the front end layout, you can simply install an attractive and user-friendly WordPress theme. If you aren’t satisfied with the available features of the selected theme, you can customize it by editing the respective source code.
Likewise, you can install and customize various WordPress plugins to improve your website’s functionality and features. Needless to say, this process is much faster than writing individual codes for each feature and interface.
Even if you’re using a premium theme and plugins, it’s going to cost you less than building the website from scratch. Another crucial benefit is that it isn’t dependent on hardware configurations or operating systems. Most open-source tools are designed to run on any platform.
Moreover, all open-source software applications are constantly being used, monitored, and maintained by talented and experienced developers. It means these applications are regularly updated and improved.
Also, it takes less time to diagnose and fix bugs. Any user who identifies an error can correct it and upload the updated version of the software. You can continue to use the software even if the company that developed it decides to shut shop.
Drawbacks of Open-Source Software
The excellent flexibility, reliability, and affordability of open-source software make it a lucrative choice for businesses of all sizes. However, just like most things on the internet, there’s a flip side to using open-source tools.
To begin with, the publicly accessible nature of open-source software that makes it affordable and time-efficient also exposes it to a diverse array of security threats. Any developer with malicious intentions can modify the source to introduce vulnerabilities.
This, in turn, makes your application susceptible to various cybersecurity threats, including malware and DDoS attacks. Moreover, all exploits associated with an open-source code are eventually made available on the National Vulnerability Database.
If cybercriminals get access to these public records, they can use this data to target organizations that are using older or unpatched versions of the software. This is precisely what happened with the Equifax breach that exposed the personal details of more than 147 million customers in the U.S.
The only way businesses can avoid such situations is by using a robust and powerful open-source vulnerability scanner to identify potential security threats to their applications. Detecting risks early in the software development process makes it easier to implement suitable mitigation strategies.
Another disadvantage of open-source tools is the lack of reliable tech support. Unlike proprietary software applications, you don’t have a dedicated vendor who can help you resolve issues. You need basic knowledge of coding to harness the full potential of open-source applications.
Lastly, the maintenance of open-source software is completely dependent on the willingness and discretion of the developer community. If the community suddenly abandons the software and moves to another project, you’re responsible for updating it.
While you can still continue to use the software, you’ll need to learn coding to implement new features, identify vulnerabilities, and fix bugs.
What open-source tools are you using in your organization? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.