Clearing Up Confusion for Your Clients About “Open Source” and “Free Software”

Do your clients understand free or open source software is different than freemium software – and can have great benefits to their operations?

open source software

How many of your business clients understand how open source software or free software could benefit their operations? There is a lot of confusion among end users – and probably among some ISVs – about what open source software and free software actually is:

  • GNU founder Richard Stallman explains that free software “is a matter of freedom, not price; so think of ‘free speech,” not ‘free beer.’
  • The Open Source Initiative promotes software “distributed under and OSD-compliant license which grants all the rights to use, study, change, and share the software in modified and unmodified form.” And again, free doesn’t necessarily mean free of charge.

WhiteSource, an open source security and license management solution provider, explains that the two movements differ in philosophy, but they both promote software that’s freely available to anyone. Conversely, closed-source or proprietary software doesn’t. With open source or free software, a developer can charge for applications based on the open architecture, but licenses usually require that they make the source code available.

Is Open Source Software or Proprietary Software the Way to Maximize Revenues?

As a developer, it may seem counterintuitive to develop open source products. After all, another developer can take your source code, use it, modify it, distribute a new product, and profit from it.

But in certain markets, there is a definite trend toward open source. For example:

  • Industrial Internet of Things: Manufacturers with their sights set on Industry 4.0 automation and efficiency, are working to connect equipment, sensors, OT and IT systems – and they want the option to add new components in the future. Open source gives them the ability to build a connected environment today – even from raw material production to the consumer – and provide the flexibility and agility to expand it in the future. It’s unlikely that any single vendor with a proprietary solution could accomplish that.
  • Robotics: ROS 2, which addresses some of ROS’s shortfalls when it came to mission-critical production use cases, enables the OS to be embedded in hardware. In his interview with TechCrunch, Morgan Quigley, chief architect and co-founder of Open Robotics, says the goal with ROS 2 is “open source all the way down into hardware” so enterprises can easily add robotics components and standardize how different robots communicate and share data.
  • Avionics: The Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard administered by The Open Group FACE Consortium will make it possible for the Department of Defense to acquire technology that’s interoperable, secure and portable. It will also allow the DoD to acquire and integrate systems more quickly and more affordably. Since work began on the standard, the industry is migrating toward open source, open architecture technology that aligns with the standard.

In these markets, not developing open source products could actually work against you.

A Bigger Advantage for Developers than Price

As a developer, you may be able to use open source/open architecture products free of charge, but that probably shouldn’t be the primary reason for choosing to use them. The bigger advantage may be your ability to leverage the work of other developers, which can save time and money. It also helps you deliver applications and integrate solutions more quickly and more cost-effectively for your clients.

And in markets where tech disruption is happening faster and faster, and agility is vital to your clients’ continued viability and competitiveness, the faster and easier you can deliver, the more satisfied your customers will be.

There’s definitely a time and place for proprietary software, but there’s also a trend toward free or open source software in a variety of use cases. Educate your clients about the potential advantages – even though one of the advantages of open source or free software isn’t that you’re providing them free of charge.  

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Mike Monocello
The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.