August 7, 2013

Proprietary vs. Open Software – The Pros and Cons Explored

OS – Windows vs. Linux

Browser– Internet Explorer vs. Mozilla Firefox

Office Suite– Microsoft Office vs. OpenOffice

Web CMS – DotNetNuke vs. Drupal

And the list goes on…

The debate surrounding proprietary software and open software seems to be an unending one. Opinions seem to be divided, as you will find fans and critics of each of these software development approaches. To share my personal view, I am delighted that the shackles are broken. The advent of open source software has kept the proprietary software developers on the edge of their seats. In a bid to outdo each other, the end user is getting a quality driven outcome.

What is interesting to note is that both proprietary and open source software have their limitations in certain areas. The choice of the right approach can better be gauged from the following pros and cons of each:

Project Size – The size of the project is undoubtedly one of the critical parameters on which the balance should sway in favor of either of these approaches. This fact was also highlighted in the Coverity Scan Report 2012, which ran through a massive 450,000,000 lines of code (proprietary and open source) to look for quality issues. The findings suggested that the use of open source software loses the race as the project size and scale expands exponentially.

Cost – Cash starved startups, small and medium businesses show a natural inclination toward open source software because of cost concerns. Licensing costs are one of the major reasons customers shy away from proprietary software. Be wary of the fact that while open source is free to download, oftentimes the costs associated with configuring it for optimal use can race past initial estimates.

Community Code Review – Open source software draws its strengths from its large community of software engineers which contribute to the project. This global community code review attribute is what adds to the increase in the number of features. The speed at which innovation happens in the open source community is far larger in comparison to proprietary software.

Product Support – When using proprietary software, help is just a click or a phone call away. This is not the case with open source software solutions as most queries are responded to via forums, which can take time. Contradictions often arise as there is no single point of contact in most cases to resolve user queries. In addition, elaborate documentation manuals provided by proprietary software make them a clear favorite over open source software.

In the end, the right choice of the software platform boils down to the present needs of your organization. Have strong feelings one way or another? Weigh in on the abovementioned pros and cons in the comments section and let us know how you come to an informed decision on the choice of open source vs. proprietary software.