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Open source communities

发布时间:2017-04-23
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ABSTRACT:

Open source communities have successfully developed many pieces of software, although most companies only use proprietary applications. It is only recently that open source software has become one of the most discussed topics among software users and practitioners. The growing attention in open source software has been stimulated by at least three factors: the triumph of products such as Linux, Apache and MySQL, which are gaining shares in their own markets (operating systems, http servers and databases); the trepidation about the Microsoft monopoly in the software industry; and, finally, the increasingly strong belief that ''classical'' approaches to software programming are failing to give a reasonable answer to the rising demand for efficient and reliable software applications, to the commercial companies who wish to acquire software in order to meet their company's needs. [1]

The aim of this essay is to provide a greater understanding of the differences between free/open source and proprietary software, the advantages and disadvantages of each of them within the business environment; and finally to enable a more informed decision making process when it comes to choosing between the two. The main issues that have been raised include cost, usability, reliability, security, service and support. Having said this, the essay will analyse open source and closed source software in conjunction to these issues. [8]

INTRODUCTION

Free/open source software (FOSS) is software for which the human-readable source code is made available to the user of the software, who can then modify the code in order to fit the software to the user's needs. The source code can be described as a the set of written instructions that define a program in its original form, and when it's made fully accessible developers can read it, modify it, and redistribute it, thereby improving and adapting the software. This way the software evolves rigorously at a rate unmatched by traditional proprietary software. [3]

Free software and Open Source software have specific definitions and legally enforceable licenses. A software license acts as the contract between the author of the software and the licensee that defines the terms of use of the software. Because software is considered as valuable intellectual property, software authors have various rights under the law to help them control the use and distribution of their property (with few exceptions). To be more specific, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and contract law protect software authors' rights. But what "free software" actually means? [2]

'Free' refers to the liberty to use, modify, and or distribute the licensed software, not necessarily the price or value. They include the rights to run, copy, study, distribute and extend the licensed software. These rights are specifically granted with free software licenses. In the world of FOSS, the license under which a program is distributed plays a significant role as they define the importance the author gives in issues such as the protection of openness, moral rights, compatibility with other open source licenses and proprietary licenses. The most commonly used licenses are GPL, Artistic, BSD and GNU. [4] [5]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 3

Essentially Open Source is a cousin of the Free Software Movement that was created back in 1983 by Richard Stallman as an attempt to promote the free distribution of software, unfettered by the standard proprietary code regulation and restrictions. Free software's rules are bounded by the General Public License (GPL), which as of 29th of June 2007 it moved to version 3 (GPLv3). But not all "open source" software meets this definition. Software may be distributed in source code form, but licensed with restrictions preventing its redistribution or its commercial use. For purposes of this essay, "FOSS" does not include such proprietary code issued with restrictions on redistribution or commercial use, nor does it include software released into the public domain. While that kind of licensing may provide for "openly" licensed source code, it does not meet the definitions created by the FOSS Community. [6][9]

There are various Open Source Initiative (OSI) certified licenses available out there, each of them with its own distinct rules that crave close investigation by any company or organization interested to use open-source software. The rules outlined in any Open Source License Initiative are typically very generous for anyone who simply wants to use open-source software. However, all the requirements related to the redistribution might require close and careful examination to avoid any potential license violation risks or issues. [6]

On the other hand, proprietary software (PS) licenses usually take away rights. They frequently take away some or most of the rights listed above. Proprietary licensed software is privately owned and the owner can legally exclude virtually any party it wishes from the use, examination, copy, distribution, or extension of the software. The inner-workings of proprietary software are trade secrets. Frequent confusion occurs with the terms 'proprietary' and 'commercial'. Many FOSS licensed software is absolutely commercial, as good as,SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 4 better, or clearly superior than proprietary counterparts, and some proprietary licensed software while considered 'commercial' is un-competitive and poor quality. [4]

Recently, many computer and software companies started acknowledging the free/open source movement. Back in 1998, Netscape (now owned by AOL) opened the source code of its web browser. Sun Microsystems has also released the source code of its StarOffice program. And interestingly, StarOffice has been released under the terms of the GNU General Public License. IBM also, released an open source version of its famous AFS file system. IBM has also announced that it will support and market the Red Hat version of the open source Linux operating system and also sponsored a three-day open source conference in New York City in December 1999. There are many more examples indicating the support of giant companies in FOSS. [7]

ADVANTAGES:

But still, which one is better for a company? Open Source or Proprietary software? The primary reason that makes many companies to start looking at open-source software is simple: price. Because the software is free, it makes it an attractive option for any company that wants to save money. As mentioned earlier, open-source can be downloaded, installed and operated free of charge. This idea of software being free, attracted many developers that were excited in trying to use new tools for developing applications, and were unable to do so in the past because of the high development costs. This type of freedom allowed many programmers to start contributing to the FOSS movement that resulted in many of today's popular software programs. Example of these open source software's are Linux, Firefox, OpenOffice.org and Apache. [6]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - By Christos Konstantinou - siu06ck2@reading.ac.uk November 22, 2009 Page 5

It didn't take long after that for commercial companies to start considering and paying attention to open source software. With the IT budgets in constant pressure and with the developers promoting the cost savings and quality of FOSS, many large companies started investigating in FOSS for their company projects. Examples of companies who adopted FOSS include The Weather Channel, Employease and Sabre. Today, almost every type of enterprise software product, starting from e-mail servers to office suites and even to voice over IP, are available as open source. Once you become familiar with using open-source tools, understand the differences and similarities between them, and proprietary software, you'll likely find many opportunities to invest in FOSS for your company. [6]

FOSS allows companies to quickly setup their operations without having to constantly buy new licenses for commercial software. This scalability resulted to various development and test environments, reducing the cost and allowing to simply try new things without the added drag of proprietary software pricing, and the compulsory traditional budgetary process that used to get in the way. [6]

In addition, the fact that the source code is available gives a big advantage to the companies, as they don't have to get into the traditional routine of maintaining the code themselves. Instead they rely on the community of developers that exist around the particular products, to keep the code up-to-date and debugged. This enables innovation and allows companies to achieve extensive peer support and collaboration with other groups as well. Companies do not have to worry about Vendor support or feel compelled to upgrade. This has a complete different notion compared to the traditional proprietary software which is supported and maintained by only the vendor and which makes the life of the software directly linked to that of its vendor only. [6]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 6

In terms of quality, reliability and security, we can support the idea that because everyone can see the source doe, there is more chance of discovering bugs and fix them very fast. Whereas, PS code is mainly reviewed by a very small group of people before its final release, which has a result for the final PS product not to be as bug free as FOSS. [3][8]

Moreover, another advantage for companies investing in FOSS can be considered the fact that there are various users contributing from different platforms that result in making FOSS more portable and compatible. This is easily achieved because all necessary modifications are made by users of the appropriate field. For example Open Office is available for MAC, Linux and Windows compared to MS-Office which is only compatible with Windows, and switching to a different platform may result to incompatibility issues or lost. [3]

Furthermore, the FOSS Community can provide a substantial marketing advantage through improved name recognition and can project the image of the company as a "good corporate citizen". This simply means that actively interacting with FOSS and the FOSS Community, can be a way for companies to open up a variety of new opportunities, both business and technical, which will undoubtedly result in increased profits. [9]

Additionally, PS relies on the Vendor for new software updates, features, fixes and so on; and this approach takes a huge amount of time. In the case of FOSS anyone can contribute to it for making it better, thus you get newer versions with more features and bug fixes faster than PS. Not to mention that there are no per-copy fees for modified versions, in contrast with PS companies such as Microsoft who they ask you to pay royalties when a new version of their operating system is released. [3][5]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 7

Over the years there has been lots of debating over the security of FOSS. PS companies, such as Microsoft, claim their products are more secure because "hackers" cannot see what lies behind the source code. Nonetheless, open-source is more secure because the software is open to inspection by everyone; bugs and security holes can be identified and resolved faster which clearly is very important for a company.

DETRIMENTS:

In contrast to the advantages of using Open Source software within a company, there are of course detriments for companies using FOSS and the main ones will be analysed below:

  1. Firstly, without doubt FOSS is cost free. Yes, you can download and install it for free, but people argue that at the end it will actually cost more to maintain it and train the users on how to use it. Whether this is true or not depends on the scenario each company is looking. [6]
  2. Secondly, support can be hard to come by, as the software is generally provided "AS-IS" with no warranties and no maintenance support. Support is probably one of the biggest advantages of using a PS in a company, because it offers ongoing support to the users which is considered a key selling point for users without technical experience. [6][8]

Equally important is the usability argument. FOSS has been mainly condemned for its lack of usability, on the grounds that the technology has not been inspected by usability professionals, hence it lacks applicability for the majority of users. In addition, it is also argued on the same topic that because FOSS does not legally require documentation such as SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 8 guides or manuals, users can only rely in online communities for support. And when FOSS provides documentation, it is usually very general. [8]

Also, a very important concern is that the legal ramifications are uncertain. Due to the variety of open-source licenses that exist, and because the source code is contributed by a vast of users, this would bring commercial companies in a very scary position. Though, a detail analysis and review of these licenses with the present of the legal department can ease many of the fears. Some FOSS vendors even offer indemnification against damages if the open-source code is involved in a lawsuit, which at the end can protect and benefit the company investing in FOSS. As mentioned before, each scenario can vary and we cannot be sure. [6]

Similarly, it is important to say here that freedom is like a two-edged sword. As with everything else, in FOSS freedom also comes with a burden of responsibility. The companies involved, must understand that they must not abuse the freedom or damage others, both intentionally and unintentionally, or try to invade private and proprietary information. FOSS faces or may face challenges in the future. These challenges can include the fact that hardware manufactures tend to keep hardware designs secret as a result to be very difficult for developers to write drivers for particular hardware on FOSS software such as GNU/Linux. This limits the companies who want to invest in FOSS by forcing them to purchase only specific types/models of hardware. [3]

Though, the worst threat for FOSS used in a commercial company, is software patents. Software patents make it very difficult to know if some method for solving aSE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 9 software issue is patented or not. This might result for the FOSS community and the company using that method to appear guilty of intellectual property infringement. [3][5]

Many companies are also reluctant to experiment with FOSS because there is a notion that this type of software has the tendency to be less inclusive than the equivalent closed PS. It often appears that PS has more features, better documentation, is easier to learn, and is more user-friendly as a whole. People believe that a product is considered a winner only if it has a considerable market share. Though, my opinion is that there is excellent evidence that FOSS has significant market share in numerous markets. Recent Surveys from organizations such as Netcraft and IDC have shown that Apache for example is the current #1 web server; GNU/Linux is the #1 server operating system, while MySQL is #3 in the databases market. Statistics not only covered the market share, but also performance and stability. At this period of time we also come across companies that replaced Microsoft Office with Sun's OpenOffice productivity suite, Ubuntu as operating system and Mozilla Firefox's Web Browser. All these are classic examples that indicate that FOSS actually works! [3][6][7][10][12][13]

CONCLUSION:

It has been proven that open-source can sometimes defeat proprietary software. Hence, companies should make sure that their policies encourage, and not discourage FOSS approaches when they look into acquiring software. There is a myriad amount of FOSS now available, along with a huge amount of licenses that has increased significantly and continues to increase day by day. After recently checking the FOSS repository SourceForge.net, the number of FOSS projects hosted there was more than 155,000, with an amount of registered SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 10 users of over 1.5 million. Most of this software was developed in a decentralized way by a vast number of individual developers from all over the world. The sum of these efforts has formed an extraordinary collection of functional, reliable, and free software that can be used to meet every commercial company's needs. [9][11]

Thus, my personal opinion is that the best software out there in terms of innovation, security, reliability, stability and cost for either a small or big company is FOSS. This is because the codes have been altered, tested and modified by programmers; academics and other organisations on behalf of the open source community. A remarkable thing about the open source software is that it can be tailored meet your company's specifications without having to buy a licence or even pay royalties to the original authors of the code. It is needless to say, that before deploying any software, just as with any proprietary software, companies need to assess how well it meets the company's needs. As soon as these questions are answered, companies can then proceed in acquiring the software they need; but make sure to review (and/or negotiate) the appropriate licenses to be sure that they have the rights they need. [8][9]

One of the down sides of FOSS, is that big giants like Microsoft have a lot of money to invest in research and development of their own products, while the FOSS's rely heavily on the generosity of developers, communities and academics, for their source codes, documentation and testing. It is also important to consider the impact of software patents on FOSS, which can be very harmful. Much consideration should be paid to ensure that patent legislation cannot be used as a weapon against FOSS. [5]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 11

Finally, because each scenario varies, it is crucial for a company when deciding between FOSS and closed/proprietary software, to take into consideration the internal (resources and capabilities) and external (stable or evolving) environment, as well as the level of risk the company is willing to take. All the above mentioned issues can be used as guidelines to make an informed decision between the two. [8]SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - November 22, 2009 Page 12

REFERENCES

  1. Alfonso Fuggetta. (2002). Open Source Software-an evaluation. Elsevier - The Journal of Systems and Software. [Online]. Available: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2412740/Open-Source-Softwarean-Evaluation
  2. Linda Hamel. 2004, January 20, Open Source Software - Legal and other Issues related to use of Open Source Software Products, presented at the Executive Leadership Conference, Boston, Massachusetts. [Online] Available: http://www.mass.gov/Eoaf/docs/itd/guidance/legal/opensource_powerpoint_review.ppt
  3. Nitesh Rijal, Shiva Ram Shrestha and Sunil Sharma, "Open Source Software & Free Software", NCIT, Dept. Of Elx and Com.. Eng. [Online]. Available: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15164126/open-source-software-and-free-software
  4. Ignacio Valdes. 2008 November, Free and Open Source Software in Healthcare 1.0, presented at the American Medical Informatics Association. [Online]. Available: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14109414/AMIA-Free-and-Open-Source-Software-in-Healthcare-10
  5. Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona. 2000 April, Free Software/Open Source: Information Society Opportunities for Europe?, Libre Software Group. [Online]. Available: http://eu.conecta.it/paper/Contents.html
  6. What is Open Source? (2009, November) CIO-IN, Strategy Guides/Open Source. [Online]. Available: http://www.cio.in/node/138SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - By Christos Konstantinou - siu06ck2@reading.ac.uk November 22, 2009 Page 13
  7. Justin Pappas Johnson, 2001, May 17. Economics of Open Source Software. Journal of Economics & Managment Strategy. [Online]. Available: http://ideas.repec.org/a/bla/jemstr/v11y2002i4p637-662.html
  8. bWired Company. 2009 . Open Source vs. Closed Source (Proprietary) Software. [Online]. Accessed: http://www.coredna.com/files/openvsclosed.coredna.pdf
  9. Gwyn Firth Murray and Michael A. Duncheon. 2006 January. Free and Open Source Software: An Introduction. [Online]. Available: http://www.ipsociety.net/readings/murray_gwyn-free_and_open_source_software-an_introduction.pdf
  10. 2009 Web Server Survey. (2009, Nov). NetCraft Internet Services Company. [Online]. Available: http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html
  11. SourceForge - Find and Develop Software Open Source Software (2009, Nov.). SourceForge. [Online]. Available: http://sourceforge.net/
  12. OpenOffice and Mozilla's Firefox WebBrowser Survey Statistics (2009, Nov.). [Online]. Available: http://epidm.edgesuite.net/RBI/computerweekly/CWRES/HTML/SurveyResults2.pdf
  13. Databases Market Share Survey (2009.Nov.) Sun MySQL. [Online]. Available: http://www.mysql.com/why-mysql/marketshare/ SE3Z5 - Legal Issues Essay - Open versus Closed - By Christos Konstantinou - siu06ck2@reading.ac.uk November 22, 2009 Page 14

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Open invitation taken up at last. (2004, December 1). The Guardian. [Online]. Available: http://society.guardian.co.uk/e-public/story/0,,1362744,00.html
  • Free Software Foundation. (1985). The GNU manifesto. [Online]. Available: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/.
  • David Bollier. (1999). The power of openness. why citizens, education, government and business should care about the coming revolution in open source code software. [Online]. Available: http://www.opencode.org/h2o/
  • The Open Source Initiative. (1998). The open source definition. [Online]. Available: http://www.opensource.org/osd.html
  • Richard Stallman. (1998). Why ``free software'' is better than ``open source''. [Online]. Available: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html

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