6 Misconceptions About Open-Source

Open-source software (OSS) is essential for modern software development, from small personal projects to large enterprise-level applications. However, OSS also has its limits. In this article, we’ll address some misconceptions about open-source projects and help developers feel confident about using open-source components while acknowledging some related risks and concerns.

History of Open-Source

In the 1960s, mainframe computers were used almost exclusively in large companies and government institutions and dominated the software market. At the time, it was uncommon to consider software and hardware as separate entities.

Manufacturers delivered software with its source code – or often just as the source code – as users often modified it to fix bugs or add features. Groups of users also shared code and information. In fact, by 1967, IBM had already distributed an operating system for mainframes in a format similar to open-source.

During the 1960s, a change arose. As operating systems and programming language compilers evolved, the cost of manufacturing software rose dramatically compared to the hardware. A small but growing software industry entered the competition, competing with the packaged software that hardware manufacturers had created.

It’s worth noting that the hardware prices included this packaged software’s cost. Leased machines required software support but provided no financial return for the help. Many customers also did not want to pay for embedded software that didn’t suit their needs.

In 1970, IBM, the market leader in mainframe computers, announced that it would sell parts of its programs separately from the hardware. Thus, the software industry changed its market output, enabling developers to more efficiently and frequently share their code.

Companies marketed software similarly to off-the-shelf products. Later in the decade, various initiatives led to the free software systems still in use, such as SPICE, TeX, and Unix. In the 1980s, developers created the first consciously-organized free software. The establishment of the ethical, legal, and financial foundations of this movement followed.

These are only some of the innovations that led to the conception of OSS. Today, you can find OSS for any programming language, and developers should feel confident about using open source.

But this confidence comes with a communal responsibility of awareness around when OSS is appropriate to use. Developers and organizations should embrace open source to save time and money while keeping in mind that it’s not always the correct solution.

 

As is usually the case, the best way to gain this confidence is through knowledge. Let’s now examine some misconceptions surrounding open-source software.

Open-Source Is Not Secure

Indeed, there have been high-profile cases where popular libraries were compromised because of their use of OSS. While such issues are often found and resolved quickly, these information security breaches can have tremendous implications.

However, this does not mean that you cannot trust OSS. One security solution is GitHub’s Dependabot, a free tool that detects and updates vulnerabilities. The risk of releasing a bug or security vulnerability shrinks drastically when reliable, up-to-date code review tools monitor exposures.  

Whether code is open or proprietary, it will have some security vulnerabilities. However, OSS is not inherently less secure than proprietary software. Every developer is susceptible to making mistakes. Even if there were a universal standard for developers to follow, human nature dictates that there would always be flaws that require mending.

That’s why the transparency of open-source code is helpful for developers: there are plenty of eyes to monitor for bugs and vulnerabilities. Many open-source projects have hundreds or thousands of contributors and users. Once the code becomes open-source, communities of white hat hackers can more efficiently identify and resolve security vulnerabilities.

Open-Source Is More Secure

For every argument about the potential vulnerabilities of OSS, you may find one asserting the contrary. However, there have been several situations where an error in a popular open-source library introduced issues on a massive scale. For example, when a Node package manager (npm) contributor deleted a small piece of code in 2016, this deletion prevented several apps from updating and interrupted active web services. So, just because a package is popular does not mean it’s guaranteed to be secure.

Before taking such occurrences as evidence that open source is universally inferior, bear in mind that the quality of a product will vary, regardless of who makes it. And while highly-skilled amateurs write and maintain some high-quality OSS projects, others are the outputs of some of the market’s best developers, including Linux and Kubernetes.

Open-Source Is Not Enterprise-Grade

Many popular projects are battle-tested by individual developers and substantial corporations — prominent tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Netflix back open-source projects.

What’s more, OSS has the potential to offer greater flexibility and user experience. Customers who use proprietary software frequently find themselves locked into the distributing company’s products and software update schedule. If these users require new features, they might be forced to wait for the vendor to write the features. With OSS, independent developers can write code and quickly introduce it into the community, significantly reducing the wait time for necessary features.

There Is No Support for Open-Source

In fact, there are many community sites, forums, and newsgroups available for OSS support. To choose an open-source tool, you must bear a few things in mind. One priority item is to know if the project has a competent team assigned to handle its responsibilities, including advisory for the engineers regarding proper methods.

Despite an abundance of support resources, you should remember that you are using OSS at your own risk. Those who maintain open-source code are not responsible for misconfigurations and are not subject to service-level agreements. As a result, support can potentially disappear at any time. However, several projects have maintained support for years, including Linux, Git, Kubernetes, Apache, Docker, R, and Vagrant.

Using Open-Source Software Is a Legal Nightmare

There are more than 1,400 open-source licenses with a variety of restrictions and usage permissions. Many of these licenses specify that you may only include the software in other open-source or non-profit projects.

However, there are plenty of “commercial-friendly” licenses such as MIT, BSD, and Apache.

You will, of course, need to be careful to prevent code with a viral license, such as GPL or AGPL, from sneaking into your codebase. Luckily, some tools automatically scan for proper licensing to help alleviate this concern.

Additionally, most open-source components rely on other dependencies. You will need to track all of these components. If the project has policies and guidelines, open-source components can be included without issue, as the management tends to be straightforward. You can read these open-source guidelines for more information.

It’s Always Cheaper to Use Open-Source Libraries

Open-source tools and libraries can be a less costly option to commercial alternatives, but this isn’t always true. When deciding between commercial and open-source options, you must consider support costs and the extra development time needed if an open-source library lacks specific features.

It’s generally free to use open-source software. However, the cost savings do not account for the time and effort to maintain open-source components. In many cases, you’ll find that OSS’s extra support and development costs make commercial tooling less expensive.

For enterprise developers who need to ship complete, secure apps quickly, it’s not a matter of choice between commercial or open-source, but rather a decision about how to most effectively combine both commercial and open-source options.

GrapeCity’s Alternatives to Open-Source

Sometimes open-source is a great choice, and other times, a commercial application better suits your needs. Choosing a commercial solution may ultimately save you time, and as a result, save money in wages and productivity.

ComponentOne

ComponentOne is a tool for controlling the user interface (UI). You can use it for mobile, web, and desktop purposes, and it is fast, scalable, and easily extended. ComponentOne also includes a server-side API that supports images, Excel, barcodes, data engines, and PDFs, as well as specialized controls for enterprises. The tool also features fully up-to-date support for Windows. Most specialized controls and services are only available in ComponentOne Studio Enterprise.

Key Benefits:

  • Good demo explorer
  • Award-winning for its UI controls
  • The one-year subscription provides perpetual access
  • The studio enterprise supports many modern platforms
  • Many themes available
  • Custom charts

 

Wijmo

Wijmo supports JavaScript and HTML5 UI components and grids for any framework. It features over 100 dynamic UI components, including more than 80 chart types, data grids, gauges, navigations, and input controls. Wijmo is an effective solution for enterprises because its framework-agnostic philosophy enables supporting several frameworks, including Angular with Ivy Compiler, React with Redux, Vue, Ionic, and Web Components. It delivers fully accessible and progressive web apps with intuitive, mobile-first, responsive controls.

Key Benefits:

  • Framework agnostic
  • Many components available
  • 100+ dynamic components
  • Good-looking demos

 

ActiveReports

ActiveReports is the industry-leading reporting solution to design, customize, publish, and view reports in .NET and JavaScript. It provides code-based, cross-platform reporting, easy-to-use designers, and a flexible API. ActiveReports offers a flexible licensing model which includes an easy-to-use ad hoc report designer. With both server-side and client-side rendering, ActiveReports supports all major .NET frameworks as well as React, Angular, and Vue. You can also customize and display report output using the report viewer interface.

Key Benefits:

  • Cross-platform
  • Industry leader for its reporting solution
  • Supports .NET and JS
  • 24-hour response time
  • Friendly licensing model

 

Why GrapeCity Customers Choose Commercial

  1. Industry-Established

GrapeCity has been a staple in the development community for over 40 years. From software creation and acquisitions, we have grown to be a leading source for developer tools.

  1. Proven Solutions

Customers like commercial solutions because they are already adopted in enterprise environments. These award-winning solutions provide a solid base to build from on a variety of platforms.

  1. Ultimate Peace-of-Mind

Customers like knowing that a product will be updated and available for years to come. GrapeCity provides hotfix’s and major updates multiple times a year to ensure customers get the latest technology available.

  1. High-Priority Problem Resolution

More than anything, GrapeCity wants customers to achieve their goals. Address problems directly using the SupportOne portal. A specialized support team member will be in touch within one business day after a ticket is opened to resolve any problems the customer may encounter.

 

Conclusion

Keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” solution for choosing either open-source or enterprise software. Open-source projects are ubiquitous and solve many day-to-day problems that developers face.

As such, they are often suitable solutions for our problems, but not always. So, we should regularly evaluate our options and choose wisely. As developers, we should build a comprehensive understanding of the implications of using open-source projects to decide best when to use open source and when to purchase commercial tooling.

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