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Using Open Source in your Business: Myths and Clarifications

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ActiveState has released a short white paper entitled “10 Myths About Running Open Source Software in Your Business”. Authors advocate against black-and-white approach to open source that is often adopted by both its zealots and its opponents. They believe that using open source software may foster business development projects but pros and cons need to be weighted carefully and proper safety nets should be put in place to reduce potential risks and to optimize advantages. This white paper can be viewed as a good basis for such a rational approach to OSS, because it refutes a number of common misconceptions about its quality, its usage and its place in today’s industry:

Myth 1: You Have to Choose Between Open Source Software and Proprietary Software
Myth 2: Open Source Software is Free!
Myth 3: Implementing Open Source Software is Only About Saving Money
Myth 4: If You Choose Open Source Software, You Are On Your Own
Myth 5: Licensing is Always a Nightmare
Myth 6: Open Source Software Equals Open Standards
Myth 7: It Is For Non-Conformists
Myth 8: Open Source Software Is Not a Good Choice for Mission-Criti­cal Functions
Myth 9: Open Source Software is Lower Quality
Myth 10: Your Business is Not Using Open Source Software

At least three of these myths are based on the assumption that OSS is still a marginal phenomenon that is not really fit for large scale business projects. Authors stress that not only cannot open source be any longer considered as non-conformist and peripheral approach to enterprise software, but it is today strongly integrated into business and this trend is only growing stronger. According to 2006 Forrester study, “75% of large businesses surveyed were either using or planning to use open source software” and Gartner predicts “90% open source adoption in enterprise software development businesses by 2012.” It is interesting to point out that OSS is more and more used for business-critical operations because of the best practices support it may offer and because it doesn’t lock the software into a single vendor with a “risk that the software will be discontinued”.

This brings us to the myths that arise around the quality of open source software and that are also debunked by white paper authors. Some believe that open source is only about saving money forgetting the competitive advantages it may offer. Its crowd-sourced development model based on peer-review allows creating more reliable and flexible code. Hence, it would be wrong to argue that OSS is lower quality because it is cheaper. Nevertheless, it is equally wrong to believe that open source development is a guarantee of quality. First of all, the evolution of OSS is not homogeneous. The level of quality control strongly depends on the size and the implication of communities that are not always “chomping at the bit to fix issues”. Moreover, a common confusion exists between OSS and open standards, whereas they are not synonymous. Even though open source development encourages the use of open standards and protocols for interoperability, development best practices are not necessarily guaranteed.

The third set of myths concerns the effective use of open source software. First of all, authors highlight that nothing opposes hybrid development models combining OSS and proprietary software. On the contrary, it would be rather impractical to “keep open source software out of your development shop” given its widespread use and advantages it may offer. In the same time, in spite of the growing offer, it is still difficult “to find an open source solution for every feature and function that your business requires.”

Another issue around OSS use that is raised in the paper concerns the perception that open source is cost free but also free of any technical support. Adoption of OSS requires solid safety nets especially when it comes to large business software projects and complex integration issues. This represents a certain cost, but it means in the same time that using open source doesn’t leave you on your own. To respond to the growing demand, specialized companies offer their assistance for technical support, integration or licensing issues, which considerably reduces the perceived risks of OSS adoption.

The authors conclude that open source adoption is rather inevitable but businesses can and should control its implementation and create their open source strategies. Otherwise, open source will “roll into your business without proper planning and consideration” and will be extremely difficult to manage.

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Community comments

  • Why companies are reluctant to use Open source

    by Deepal Jayasinghe,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Interesting article , I also wrote a blog entry few week backs explaining my view about open source and commercial reluctant to use them in their businesses.

    Read Full Story

    Thank you!


  • FUD#1: Patent fears

    by Jim Leonardo,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    What's missing off this list is that a lot of companies are afraid of using open source b/c they are afraid that they will get their butts sued off if there turns out to be patent infringement problems with the OSS. It's probably not on this list because it's not really a myth as its at least been attempted in one major case (Linux).

    In particular, GPL is also very unfriendly to a lot companies, even(maybe especially) "internally" as they would be required to send the source to their legally distinct foreign subsidiaries. If you've ever had to deal with an issue that came up because the subsidiary had modified the software and then denied it left and right, you'll know what I'm talking about here.

  • I dont't want to lose my job!

    by Vikas Hazrati,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I was working for a huge pharma company once. The architects were worried about advocating open source for the fear of losing their job. In the super political scenario, they had to be sure that they should not be blamed for making wrong decision. So they preferred going the non-open source way so that they have someone else to blame when things go wrong and still hang on to their job!

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