Open Source vs Proprietary Software

'Open Source' and 'Proprietary' are two terms referring to different approaches to the thinking behind the development process and control of software.

Proprietary models are commercially oriented first, and user second. Products and launches are all about money and getting to market with wow campaigns. Then over time users are delivered service packs to add or enhance features and address bugs. Sometimes updates include free patches, but other times fees are requested for the on-going product patching process.

Open source models are community centric, and take direction from market demand, developers and end users with different needs or points of view. The software / user community may be small initially and grow slowly. Success tends to be Darwinian in that useful projects can pick up momentum very quickly through word of mouth or wide adoption. This may occur by user as well as developer uptake.

The main aspects that make open source solutions superior to proprietary solutions include:

  • No vendor lock-in - lock-in is where you cannot take the website and software to another provider (under code ownership), or find other providers with expertise in supporting your product. This situation may occur if your commercial provider of a proprietary system goes out of business or walks away from you (or you from them). You are left with an dead-end and eroding product without support. Open source systems, even if the product changes hands, will transfer or fork (sometimes with a name change) but continues because the momentum of the developer base and user base
  • No code lock down - this is the inability to modify the system to fit your business the way you want it (e.g. using custom field 3 to store a spouse name). This ends up with the business having to change to fit the software works. With open source, if a feature doesn't exist, someone may create it, and many others review and improve on it, and it is contributed into the community to share and evolve
  • No licensing costs - in proprietary systems, there tends to be a fee for just getting a copy of the software license (and additional fees for number of users). Then the business pays a further fee for delivery for implementation and consulting on top. Open source systems tends not have a license fee, so anyone can try it (support free) without limitation if they have the skills in setting up it up themselves. What you pay for with open source is expertise and support, thus the TCO is much lower
  • Lower hosting costs - proprietary CMS systems require proprietary hosting configurations (operating systems and databases) to run them, which mount the costs of hosting. Open source solutions can run on any operating system, but running them over Linux and using other freely available alternatives for databases and modules don't attract additional license fees reducing costs
  • Full release up-to-date support documentation - consider any flavour of MS Windows, the most widely used operating system on the planet, and its lack of poor help documentation. All popular open source solutions come with rich user and admin support documentation, and this is brought up to date and in-line with each product release
  • Higher security and performance - open source is tightly regimented in the version control of code within the development cycle. On top of this, code review and inclusion is cross checked by many eyes that come from many different points of view. As such the security and stability of open source solutions tends to be considerably superior to that found in proprietary solutions. By maintaining alignment with the latest versions and patches, a business can enjoy a superior system security and system stability, especially when compared to proprietary models. Be aware that out of date open source software can be just as hackable as proprietary systems