You have probably heard about open source. In practice, this means that public access is provided to the source material of an end product. Consider, for example, apps such as the CoronaMelder, whose code anyone can view to check how it is structured and, by means of documentation, can check on which the interim decisions are based. This application is one of thousands of examples of open source.
In this article we describe together with UX designer Fabian van Competa IT five reasons why both end products and the community benefit from open source.
1. The open source community
Open source products are typically developed by a community united by their common ambition to support and improve solutions. These international partnerships are generally better able to introduce concepts and capabilities faster and more effectively than teams working on proprietary products. The collective collaboration of a community of talented individuals not only generates more ideas, but also allows for faster development and more efficient solutions should problems arise.
2. Open source offers more transparency
Open source (literally: open source) means just that: one gets full insight into the source material, as well as discussions about how the community develops functions and addresses problems. This is in contrast to sources that are not public, and therefore produced behind the scenes and – as a result – bring unforeseen restrictions and other unwelcome surprises.
In recent years, there have been increasing concerns about privacy worldwide. This makes the “open” nature of open source more interesting to consumers, as technology mixes deeper into our lives. For example, with open source products, it is clear which data is collected and how it is used. In general, solutions are also developed directly with a view to privacy. This is by no means always the case within closed source solutions, experience has shown.
3. Reliability and security
Because more eyes are on it, the reliability and security of open source is generally very good. With a global community supporting the resource, rather than a single team within one company, the majority of solutions are developed and guided by experts, then thoroughly vetted by the community. The result is usually extremely robust, tried and tested code.
4. Based on beneficence
The motivation behind the decision about the direction of an open-source solution is to create the best, most ‘useful’ product. Companies that create ‘proprietary code’ usually focus on finance rather than ethics, for example.
Intrinsic motivation plays an important role for many ‘contributors’. For example, the most common underlying goal of open source is to jointly make available and improve information and products that can serve all of humanity. Some examples of this are Linux, Firefox, LibreOffice and Wikipedia.
5. Safeguarding closed ecosystems
Companies try to retain customers as much as possible within the domain of their own services. Classic examples of this are Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. In the short term, this has the advantage that all kinds of solutions are within reach, but it makes making your own choices more difficult. For example, users are completely dependent on the decisions and conditions from the company, such as the discontinuation of a product or service. Since the source of open source in a theoretical sense always remains “open” and available, the product cannot simply disappear from the market. This in turn means less risk for products that are dependent on this.
Open source solutions offer the best possible – and the only (!) – guarantee that software can be trusted. Nevertheless, open source is not a perfect solution; after all, nothing is perfect. However, the alternative consists of closed sources, which do not offer any guarantee.
All in all, open source offers more than enough to compete with closed source. Many people even argue that open source is the future for a better and more transparent society. And who knows, everything may become mandatory open source in the future.
Hi, My Name is Maria Wilson. I write about consumer credit for Techoko. I have been a speaker at FinCon, a national personal finance conference. My work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, MarketWatch, USA Today and MSN Money, and on the Associated Press wire. I am a serial mortgage financier. You can contact with me here at FB, Twitter or Email.