Open source software is a software where the source code is distributed to the users of the software along with debugging tools for further enhancement of the software. Open source software also makes everything public at the development period so that users can know what all to expect during the final release. Everything is transparent and open from the start and the source code is freely available and hence, it is named ‘open source’.
We often see that most commercial products focus on visual features of the product from the marketing point of view whereas open source products focus on practical features like robustness, durability, ease of use and scope for enhancement. Open source software are usually developed by dedicated and experienced developers for whom money is not the only form of motivation. Their main source of motivation is the positive feedback and words of appreciation provided by the users of the software. However, many open source projects have been massively successful in terms of financial profitability too though that has never been the driving source behind any such projects. In most cases, the financial profits are related to services and advanced business solutions related to the software rather than the project itself.
Open source software gives its users the freedom to go through the source code, an option to debug and fix any bugs and at times, an opportunity to write a chunk of code to enhance the features of the software and distribute the same. With such a transparent process, as the time passes the product gets more robust and better in terms of features and quality instead of getting outdated as is the case with most commercial products. Many of the features are developed based on feedback of the customers instead of a marketing point of view and that makes it a lot more beneficial for the end-user. Let us look at some of the benefits of open source software:
Reliability: In case of commercial products, if a user come across any error or finds the product crashing under certain conditions, he has nothing much to do other than relying on the official support team with limitations or looking for some other product. In case of an open source product, if a user finds any bugs, he himself can fix it and redistribute the code if needed while informing the main distributors. Or he can just post about the bug or inform the community so that developers can will fix it and release it to the public with the bug-fix. This assures good reliability.
Stability: We often notice that users of the commercial products need to frequently upgrade to the latest versions of the software to keep the business running without any hassles. One cannot rely on older versions as the support for the same may not be available in the future after a definite duration of time. In many cases, the commercial products force the upgrades on the end users by providing support on older versions only for a limited time. And many of them also keep an upgrade cost for upgrading to new versions. This results in the customers shelling out more money with the passage of time to avoid being stuck in an older version without any proper support. This is not the case with open source software. Almost all open source products adhere to standards where one may need to upgrade only to avail enhanced features. If a business chooses to stick to older version, it can be still possible with little customization. More importantly, all upgrades are also easy and free of cost and so, the software user does not need to pay at any time during the usage of the software. In case of open source software, the user has the control to decide about how he wants to use the software and nothing is forced on the consumer.
Support: Many people argue that open source products lack quality support which has been proven to be wrong in most cases. They might not have dedicated support like a commercial product but it relies on robust and highly active communities who support each other. There are many projects where the developers directly provide support. But in case of most popular open source software, you would not need to even approach the developers. Due to the transparent nature of the products, the older members of the community as well as new users get acquainted with the source code and the ins and out of the software very soon. Most bugs in open source products are fixed by the community even before it is officially fixed from the developers. There are several forums, websites, IRC channels etc. dedicated for such products and they are frequently visited by highly knowledgeable people who provides free help to others during their spare time. The open source community around the world has been growing rapidly and so, support for all open source products will only become better with time. And it would mean long-term support without any financial bindings. In contrast, money is still seen to be the driving factor while providing support in commercial products. At times, it has been noticed that commercial products try to up-sell other commercial products when a person approaches the vendor for support.
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