Open Source Software: An Industry Game Changer
December 18, 2013
•IADT General, Information Technology
• 0 Comments
Companies as large as Facebook and Google rely primarily on open source software (OSS) such as Linux, the PHP programming language and the MySQL database server. Long gone are the days when Internet companies purchased volumes of software licenses and relied on third-party, closed-source solutions. OSS is here to stay.
However, the idea of OSS may seem counterintuitive. How can you, as a business owner, make money from software that you distribute for free? Can you deliver quality software developed by a multitude of volunteers who work in their spare time? Why does open source software have such a foothold in the industry?
While it may appear to be counterintuitive, OSS has so many strengths that its dominance is easy to understand.
Open Source Software: What Is It?
Historically, companies developed software and sold it for a profit. This does still happen. But more and more, developers are releasing software under an open source license, such as the General Public License (GPL). This license specifies that anyone can modify the source code—the DNA—of an application as long as they redistribute their changes under the same open source license.
Why has open source software received such traction in industry?
The Benefits of Using Open Source Software
Fortune 500 companies like Amazon.com and Apple, as well as top universities like MIT, rely on OSS for the following reasons:
- Extensibility: Any OSS product can be modified to suit your needs. Noticing significant performance bottlenecks in the PHP programming language, Facebook reimplemented PHP as a compiled language called HipHop, boosting performance five-fold. Because PHP is an OSS product, Facebook engineers were able to dig into the source code and make significant modifications instead of relying on vendor solutions, which conceal the inner workings of an application to the consumer.
- Reliability: Large OSS projects, like MySQL database and Apache, are developed by thousands of volunteers and even some paid engineers. Their wide user base and ability to contribute back to the project allow for nearly instantaneous resolution of bugs and security issues. Amazon's entire Cloud infrastructure is based on the open source Linux operating system, which provides enterprise-level services to companies like Netflix.
- Education: Using OSS operating systems like Linux and programming languages like Python, students can peel apart the layers of an application and really understand what's going on. Teaching the fundamentals of programming language design and architecture requires the openness that OSS provides. In other words, OSS has really changed how students learn software engineering.
- Modularity: OSS is highly modular and generic. You can produce thousands of applications or services using the same building blocks. For example, most websites use what is called a LAMP stack: Linux, Apache web server, MySQL Database and PHP programming language. This stack can be used to build anything.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons