By definition, open source is a development model promoting universal access and redistribution of technology. While there is much to be said about the philosophical implications of free and accessible technology, open source solutions are also practical from a business standpoint. You may be asking, how can something that costs nothing yield such high value? How can my business benefit from open source technology? And what are the advantages of using open source software as opposed to proprietary? Allow me to explain.
Collaboration is key
Open technology would be nothing without the many talented people that make up its various communities, which include everyone from code contributors to engaged users to dedicated companies. The involvement of so many actors in such diverse roles, all equally dedicated to improving the existing technology, ensures constant sustainable innovation.
The force multiplier of an open source community working together to create, improve, and extend functionality allows our tech experts to “innovate with less.” When building Open Atrium 2, for instance, we looked at the best existing open solutions, and combined them with specific focused functionality for the mission of the platform. As software architect Mike Potter put it, many components our systems were “proudly invented elsewhere.” Such a system allows the Open Atrium team to focus resources on specific core modules, ensuring an all-around better product.
The team you hire to build your open source website is bolstered by the millions of users that have contributed to the open software that your team is implementing.
Annie Stone gave us a run-down of the way open source communities work together in a blog post earlier this year. While we often think of open source collaboration as contributing or fixing shared code, one of the most significant trends today is the growing involvement of enterprise companies in community events. Companies like NBC are plugging into local open source events and initiatives in order to keep their internal development team involved in new software development and top talent. Phase2’s Enterprise Practice Manager Chris Strahl outlines the benefit that enterprise companies have on the community in turn: “Through larger project budgets and more complex problems, many new modules and functionalities are developed and then, in turn, are contributed back to the community.”
In this case, freedom is free
Open technology means no one vendor has control over the growth, development, or direction of a software tool. What emerges is not chaos but a truly wonderful capacity to adapt the technology to meet individual clients’ needs. Restrictive vendor lock-ins, which can leave customers out to dry each time their vendor increases its prices or updates its proprietary software, are simply not an issue. Instead, open access to no-strings-attached updates allows for remarkable flexibility for customization.
Beyond the freedom that comes with open technology, there is the fact that it’s, well, free in the sense that this extremely valuable software comes without licensing fees or hidden costs. Our work on georgia.gov provides a terrific example of the way open technology allows for malleability without the proprietary price tag. Like all of our clients, the state of Georgia has an eye towards cutting costs (in this case, saving taxpayer dollars) but was trapped in an inflexible proprietary system. Using an open source multi-site platform, we allowed GTA to provide its citizens with better access to their state’s online resources while also saving money.
As our tagline suggests, our devotion to open source is matched by an equally strong focus on open minds. In the end, it is all the people using open source software that make it reliable and secure. In this fast-paced industry, the open model is really the best way to test, review and critique software. As major open source proponents, we’ve contributed modules, events, distributions, and presentations back to several open source communities. Together we can continue to innovate and succeed.
Amazingly, this blog is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of open source technology. Its many other advantages (superior security, interoperability between systems, and the world of support options, just to name a few) will have to be the subject of another post, because as you’ve probably guessed, we could talk about this all day. Openness, as our CEO Jeff Walpole has said many times, is in our DNA. It allows us to work with the best people, produce the best products, contribute the best ideas, and deliver the best solutions for our clients. And we wouldn’t have it any other way!