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?