Open-Source Software: An Introduction

Leen KeymeulenUncategorized

Logiciels Open source

What is Open-Source?

“Open-source” is a rather broad term. In essence, any system, product, or idea that is available to anyone and everyone to tinker with and improve is open-source. The term open-source comes from the world of software development and most software developers will champion the ideals of truly open projects.

It’s not hard to see why open-source projects are so popular. A product that anyone is able to work on makes the development cycle a collaborative process. Knowledge is exchanged freely, prototypes can be made rapidly and issues can be caught and fixed easily.

On the other end of the spectrum, that of “closed-source” software, the product is kept inside a black box. The original author(s), or more often the institution that signs their paychecks, decides who gets a key and which sliver of the product they get to touch.

If you’re not a programmer yourself, you might not necessarily see the harm in a closed-source software product. It sounds very safe. Nefarious hackers can’t put traps inside of a black box if they don’t have the key to it. However, closed-source projects have their own set of baked-in insecurities. A dangerous bug in closed source software can have a higher chance of remaining unnoticed. Or the development cycle in place can make for a lengthy and arduous process to kill that bug. Furthermore, there is a strong layer of security built into the open-source system: You might be able to see what everyone else is doing but they’re free to look at your work as well.

Why do You Need Open-Source Software?

Let’s bring these concepts of “open” and “closed” sources into the real world and see what it means for the software. If you’ve spent any time on a computer, you have no doubt interacted with both types of software.

The most famous examples of proprietary (that’s the fancy way of saying closed-source) software are Microsoft Windows and macOS. The two most popular operating systems on the market that are both kept inside of black boxes. You are probably using one of these two to access your favorite open-source software like the web browser Firefox, VLC’s media player, Blender, Mozilla Thunderbird, Reddit, or Moodle.

Or you might be reading this on an Android phone which is running the open-source operating system Linux behind the screen.

You’ve probably been passively benefiting from open-source software in many ways but the software market can be a convoluted one with many seemingly equal products.

It can be very daunting to find the software you need for a specific task, especially if you have to make this decision professionally.

For many years companies both large and small favored proprietary software. Products that could be “picked off the shelf” that looked and acted the same for everyone who used them. You probably have a computer or laptop at work with the exact same set of applications as your coworkers. Companies like Atlassian specialize in these sets of services but in practice, this kind of set-up might not always be the best fit.

It might sound a bit cliche, but every company is unique. They have their own challenges, needs, and desires. A company with over 300 employees selling a popular product might need a very robust service desk to receive and handle hundreds of messages from their customers while a 5-person communication company is looking for a service desk system that is quick to use with their more modest portfolio of clients.

When selecting software solutions and tools for your activity, it is not unlikely that the “off the shelf” products you find come with a bunch of features you have no real need for or even more often, don’t quite do everything you need them to do.

This is where open-source software products become very interesting. Because of its open nature, these products tend to have flexibility and adaptability built into them. Different collaborators might have different interests or desires reflected in the changes they make to a product or the entirely new products they built based on the ideas of another.

Instead of buying the black box wholesale, open-source products allow for a more customized flow based on specific problems and needs. Your company can find a service desk you like that is perfectly scaled for less than a hundred users instead of having to settle for the enormous (and expensive) off-the-shelf one.

How Easy is it to Manage the Open-Source Software?

Software evolves at an incredibly fast pace and the manner in which it is developed and used is evolving along with it. More than ever open-source software has become very accessible for people with very little technical knowledge. You can easily find documentation and tutorials for more popular products. And the more people you have collaborating on a piece of software, the higher the chances are of finding good and clear how-tos for it.

There’s rising popularity for this “new” way of handling your company’s tools. A company decides on a set of software products that fit together perfectly to cover each of their needs.

A secure Linux server, a wiki-style knowledge base, a lightweight messaging system for quick communication with clients, and a cloud-based storage system might be all that a company needs and they can find a software package for each of these functions that they can install and use painlessly.

This pick-and-mix way of organizing your tools has some obvious advantages when compared to proprietary software. You’re allowed a lot of flexibility in your toolchain. You can easily switch out a wiki-style knowledge base for a larger learning platform if you need to. Or you can drop your service desk if it turns out it is never used without having to uproot your entire stack of tools.

It might seem daunting to choose this type of toolchain. Especially for large companies or companies without a dedicated IT support service to handle all the decision-making, installation, and maintenance of your tools. This is where a company like iDalko comes in to take on those tasks. A third-party helping with a set-up has a big advantage beyond installation and maintenance: they know which open-source software products are out there and can help you discover the perfect ones for your specific case.