I don’t really understand why it happens, but for some reason far too many people think opensource is free as in gratis rather than free as in freedom. As a result, when I ask people why they would use opensource, the answers are framed in the context of cost. The three commonest answers I get are:
(a) cheaper to “buy”
(b) cheaper to run
(c) cheaper to fix
This not-so-subtle positioning of opensource as “free” somehow translates to the enterprise equivalent of pinko communist left-handed tree-hugging vegetarian, and that’s all she wrote. End of story.
So I thought it was time to provide ten reasons of a different sort….
1. Opensource makes you responsible. When you choose the components yourself, you don’t have a vendor to scream at. Or, as is often the case, a whole heap of vendors to scream at, each merrily pointing all known fingers (and a few unknown ones) at everyone else. While you fume and stew.
2. Opensource makes it easier for you to get married. When your architecture is primarily based on opensource components, software and data integration costs stay low and the process works.
3. Opensource makes you more attractive. To graduates and first-jobbers, members of Generation M, opensource has an iPod-like halo. And they know how to use the tools as well.
4. Opensource keeps your tail in shape. Scarcity models are by definition not scale-free; a hit culture prevails. Opensource, given the lower barriers to entry, allows someone to build a left-handed credit derivatives juicer because he felt like it. There’s a long-tail effect. You are more likely to find esoteric tools in an opensource world than in a closed source one. Opensource people don’t go around asking “Is there a market for this?” They solve problems and see if others have similar problems to solve.
5. Opensource makes you look younger. There’s an elixir-0f-youth effect, a future-proofing that comes from using opensource. You cannot be blackmailed at the altar of Forced Upgrade. You have optionality. That is the Free that is Opensource. The implied optionality.
6. Opensource makes you cleverer. You innovate faster because you have access to faster innovation. Whenever you look at an opensource ecosystem, try and compare it with a closed-source version. Compare it in terms of the time taken for launching in different countries, languages, whatever. I should say “try to compare it in terms of….”. There is no comparison.
7. Opensource makes you a man/woman of the world. Globalisation is about global markets and global resources and global communications. When you use opensource components, you are more likely to find people all over the world with the right knowledge and skills; proprietary skills require proprietary investment.
8. Opensource makes you fitter. Most opensource components are seen as infrastructure, as commodity, and people often say that opensource is therefore about commodity. I’ve made that mistake as well. I think we’ve got cause and effect mixed up here. Opensource commoditises, and therefore creates commodity. When you get commoditised, you tend to look for other things to differentiate you, make you stand out. You get “fitter” as a result, with the two prongs of commoditisation and looking-for-fresh-differentiation.
9. Opensource makes you more famous. At least one of the essences of opensource is Given Enough Eyeballs. Linus’s Law. The opensource model attracts eyeballs.
10. Opensource makes you safer. When code is open to inspection it is harder to create backdoors; harder to exploit weaknesses because the weaknesses get fixed faster; harder to make monoculture threats because there is a form of natural selection taking place.
And yes, the first three standard reasons are true as well. Opensource does make you richer.