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What are the Pros and Cons of Open Source?

written by: John Garger•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 1/22/2010

As with any paradigm, open source technology carries with it advantages and disadvantages in comparison with other development philosophies. Learn about the pros and cons of open source technology.

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    In the first article of this series, we discussed the definition of open source technology and explored some of the more important aspects surrounding this development paradigm. As with every philosophy, there are advantages and disadvantages to open source technology that has important ramifications for both users and developers.

    This article discusses the pros and cons of open source technology from both a user’s and developer’s point of view. Read on to learn how open source compares with closed source development philosophies.

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    Pros and Cons of Open Source for Developers

    From a developer’s point of view, open source technologies provide a platform on which to build custom solutions. Rather than develop, say, an entire proprietary operating system, developers can build and improve upon the already existing open source Linux operating system platform. In this way, more time is spent on the specific task to be solved rather than getting the system up and running to the point where it is stable and reliable.

    Unfortunately, this means that other developers have access to the developer’s work and can easily create a competing product. One of the reasons why Microsoft has such a huge market share of the operating system industry is because its software operates on a closed source paradigm; no one but those people privy to the source code can customize Windows. In addition, developers must be prepared to have their work publicly scrutinized. Almost everything in open source is viewable by other developers. If a developer makes a major mistake, it can become public information and tarnish the developer’s reputation.

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    Pros and Cons of Open Source for Users

    The biggest advantage of open source for users is that most projects are free to download and use. Without the pressure to show a profit from their work as in a large corporation, open source developers can work more toward end users’ individual needs and less on appealing to the masses. The result can be fewer bugs and more productivity due to the semi-custom solution.

    However, one con to using open source technology is that the focus is often on backend processing of information and not on user interfaces. Microsoft Windows has arguably one of the easiest interfaces with which to work. Often, open source software such as Linux requires the user to have specialized knowledge that cannot be configured with just clicks of a mouse. In addition, open source projects often do not have good documentation to walk the user through the learning and using of the technologies.

    In the case of Linux, for example, many hardware manufacturers seem to make their drivers and software work on Windows platforms first and consider other operating systems as an afterthought. The result can be poor support and more of a reason to switch to a better supported, yet closed source solution such as Windows.

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    Conclusion

    Open source has a number of advantage and disadvantages from both the point of view of developers and the point of view of users. These pros and cons must be weighed carefully before switching from a better-supported close source solution to a riskier open source technology. In the long run, the end user is the ultimate judge of which is a better solution. Without support from the user, developers and open source projects cannot continue except as a hobby or personal challenge for the developers.

Open Source Technology Definition, Advantages, and Disadvantages

In the first article of this series, learn a definition for open source technology and explore some of its more important features. The second article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of open source technology.
  1. An Introduction to Open Source Technology
  2. What are the Pros and Cons of Open Source?