In this article, we discuss the differences and benefits between open source software and closed source software.

What’s Open Source Software & What Are the Benefits?

Open source software (OSS) is software that’s released with the code behind it that makes it work, or at least that code is available somewhere, usually for free. For example, the popular web browser Firefox is open source. That means you can get the code, or at least the relevant portions of the code, that makes Firefox work from Mozilla Corporation.

What makes open source software good? Take this example: if you search “Mozilla Firefox add-ons” on Google, you’ll get well over a million results. Now, search for Internet Explorer (Microsoft’s closed source browser) add-ons, and…well the number is less impressive. This is because open source software allows developers to write their own code to make the software better, more functional, and generally easier to use.

But it doesn’t stop there. More benefits include:

  • The bottom-line isn’t put before consumers.
    • With closed source software, a company’s best interests is usually their pockets. They want to make a product as cost effective as they can, which sometimes means cutting corners. With OSS, since it’s free to use, the driving force behind making it better is user experience.
  • A worldwide community vs. a small room of developers.
    • OSS needs a large community of support from around the world to make it a reliable, viable product. Closed source, on the other hand, is handled by a small number of developers.

Open Source vs. Closed Source Software Security

There are many arguments from anti-open source folks. Some say that releasing the full source code to any application, whether it’s a software application or a web application, opens up a huge security breach. I beg to differ.

For every one person that finds a potential breach, there are ten other people that have already found it and figured out how to patch it up. Sure, you’ll need to download an update, but isn’t that better than allowing access to all 2,500 of your customers’ sensitive data? I’d say it is.

Is Microsoft’s Closed Source Secure?

Microsoft’s code is closed to the public, so it should be pretty hard for somebody with bad intentions to figure out how to write a new virus. Right?

Not quite. Every Windows update you download is because somebody did in fact find a way to do it, or they’ve already done it, and have been doing so for quite a while.

Once Microsoft finally realizes this has happened, their team of programmers figure out how it happened, how to fix it, and then deploy the patch to the millions of Windows customers out there. Within that time span, a countless number of machines could have been compromised, as is often the case.

Had Windows been open source, such as any flavor of Linux (another operating system similar to Windows), this could be prevented, or at the very least would have affected a much smaller number of consumers.

What about Linux?

Speaking of Linux, how often do you hear of a new worm, trojan, virus, or any combination of the three, being used against a Linux machine? Rarely.

This is because Linux released the full source code. As mentioned above, there are ten people fixing it at the same time as the one guy trying to exploit it.

Most “black hat” programmers (those who wish to write code to do bad things) simply just don’t bother writing worms or viruses for Linux machines. They know it’s generally a waste of time for them. It’ll be fixed within days. That’s not to say that open source software such as Linux doesn’t get compromised ever, but it certainly happens a lot less often than closed source software.

Which Do You Prefer?

Do you prefer using an open source ecommerce software such as osCommerce and having bugs and vulnerabilities patched within days of their discovery?

Or do you prefer using a closed source solution which may take weeks or months to patch?

Think about it this way, the vulnerability may be something as simple as a user being able to spam your store with fake orders. Or, they could do much worse, such as stealing all 2,500 of your customers’ sensitive data, like credit card numbers, etc. That would be a fun couple of days, wouldn’t it? Explaining to your customers why they were charged $800 to a bank in Nairobi on the same card they just used at your store. You would seem like a professional and top-of-the-line business, wouldn’t you? Oh, did I mention that most open source software is completely free of charge?

Tell us what you think in the comments. Are you pro open source or closed source?

3 responses to “Open Source Software vs. Closed Source Software

Posted by DK

I think both have a place. I personally generally prefer closed source – and the main reason is usability.
Closed source projects are generally commercial ventures, and commercial companies tend to put more effort into making a product usable in my opinion..
They often have whole departments of non-programmers just to dream up how the software SHOULD work, usually to the annoyance of the programmers since they mostly just care about functionality.
Whereas typically open source software are just work that a programmer wants to do, and the little details get left out and as long as it basically functions they move on to the next function, even if it functions poorly :). I have noticed this seems to be true even with the smallest commercial software companies.

Posted on February 15, 2009 at 1:12 am

Posted by Dean

Hi DK,

I’m certain that Eric will have a follow up response to your comment as well, but I wanted to respond to your comment too.

First of all, this is a very insightful view into the world of software development. Closed source products do tend to be more usable to the general user. They are well thought out and millions of dollars are typically invested to make them usable. We use closed source software such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop almost every day.

Open source software, however, tends to be much more stable and secure than its closed source brethren, particularly in the case of web based or specific open source software, as opposed to desktop software. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up my copy of Photoshop for a copy of Gimp. But open source software has some specific advantages in the online world, and sometimes in the desktop world.

Open source software isn’t developed by a single organization. Typically, at least the good stuff, is built by hundreds, if not thousands of independent programmers from all over the world. Why does this matter? Because when there is a security hole, or something breaks…it gets fixed, usually in the same day because hundreds or thousands of programmers have a vested interest in the software. The glitch doesn’t have to go through red tape, memos and “decision makers” to get fixed. Take Internet Explorer vs. Firefox for example. IE is broke, always has been and probably always will be. It’s been built by the most powerful and arguably the largest closed source monopoly, I mean company, in the world. They can’t get it right.

Firefox is built and tested by some of the best programmers and hackers in the world. When it breaks, they usually find the hole before the general public does and they fix it and update the software AUTOMATICALLY. WordPress is just awesome….as are several other open source pieces of software.

Other open source software such as OSCommmerce, Magento and Pidgin are much the same. They are great pieces of software and are unparalleled by anything that Adobe, Microsoft, et al. could possibly produce and they are more secure than 10,000 cookie cutter programmers in the Silicon Valley could hope for.

When it comes down to it, programmers are programmers. They build (typically) what they’re told to build or build to make sure that a certain level of functionality in intact. Open source programmers don’t typically have an endless stream of venture capitalists and a bank account to substantiate in depth beta testing and feature research. But they do make some phenomenal pieces of software, both open and closed source, with the right end user feedback.

It would be great if companies such as Microsoft, with more money than God, would help support more open source projects…don’t you think??!?! Then we could have the best of both worlds. Just imagine if Microsoft got some some open source developers to help secure Internet Explorer or make it understand and render some type of web standard other than their own. :)

Posted on February 16, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Posted by amirah

i strongly agree

Posted on October 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm

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