Strengths and Weaknesses of Open Source Software
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Software contracts and licensing have achieved greater milestones as far as their terms are concerned. Consequently, debates surrounding whether the software vendors and developers should deliver the products with their source codes or not have taken a central stage. Depending on the terms agreed upon in the contract and the technological nature of a software project, the developer can submit a compiled form with its source code. With the vast source code approach gaining popularity in the market, it is, however, important to explore both its strengths and weaknesses (Parry & Fitzgerald, 2001).
According to Feller & Fitzgerald (2002), apart from the primary privilege to access the program source code of software, open source software also offer the user or the client several licensing or contractual freedom. First, the license gives the other party the freedom to engage in any third party transaction on the software. This includes; redistribution, reselling, among others. Secondly, the agreement states that apart from the source code form, the redistribution rights also gather for the compiled forms. Another common privilege on acquired open source software is that the license allows the party to impose the same terms on any product derived from the original software. Others include; security on the author’s integrity by imposing different terms for derived products, and accommodation of other software among other privileges.
There are several examples of open source software which are distributed or are being used globally for daily application. Examples are, but not limited to Mozilla project, Linux GNU, the recent Microsoft’s Open document format, Libre Office, Graphical K Desktop Environment (KDE) interface among others.
As mentioned above, the license terms also provide a great basis for the strengths and weaknesses of open source software. The first strength is all about the availability of the software source code which gives room for further modifications. For example, consider the Linux operating system which provides only the minimum baseline or the necessary requirements. The other application functionalities will be achieved through the kernel-based modifications. The modification privilege is of the great benefit as gives any interested developer to extend its functionalities at the same time fixing any bugs as well customizing it for personal or environment preferences.
In terms of security and reliability issues, open source systems like Linux becomes a good example of open source software. In this regard, every Linux program operates under control of its own kernel. As a result, in any event of a malfunction, it will only be the application that crashes but not the basic kernel. Moreover, it is possible for any user to customize the operating to give room for the critical applications prioritization.
Somerville (2010) also noted that “open source software gives room for continuous and productive software maintenance” (p.104). This is quite evident as apart from giving room for source code modification, the license also provide for the ‘passing-over’ the changes. After a series of modifications, the software will be highly improved unlike the developer-bound closed source software. Clearly, this is a strong one quality strength.
Furthermore, as the name suggests; open source software is open to any developer. As a result, development of such software can take any direction right from the baseline requirements without any constraint from neither developers nor a company. Interestingly, open source software technology has provided solutions to the challenges which arise when a particular company cease from developing it. Any programmer or a company can take over the development process owing to its openness.
Compared to other commercial software manufactures, GNU/Linux for example as an open source operating system is unreasonably cheaper than other operating systems. This is attributed to the fact that Linux users can access and download hundreds of applications to expand their systems for free which is not the case with other operating environments which are packed in nature.
Finally, in terms of operability and portability; open source software can run in different environments. They are known to have hooks which can be used to adapt to most hardware platforms. Contrarily, this is not the case with other software which is associated with compatibility issues due to their least open porting standards. For example, Mozilla browser can be used with various operating systems and environments.
However, open source software is associated with several disadvantages which form the basis for their weaknesses. First, given the least preference by commercial software manufacturers, open source applications and operating systems are few in the market making their advancement less relevant compared to other competing software. Consequently, open source software technology has remained less mature compared to the other technologies (Lerner & Tirole, 2005)
Also, open source software face compatibility problems especially when different subsequent tasks are done using the various versions of the application. For example, although a document can be created using Microsoft Office Suite and then saved in any Microsoft file formats, it poses a great challenge while importing or exporting its texts (Feller, 2005).
In addition to these weaknesses, open source software also requires the user have adequate knowledge about both the structural and functional software design. As a result, the novice users may find it difficult to learn and use the operating systems or the applications, i.e. low usability. This can be highly attributed to the fact that most open source software development processes don’t follow well defined stages and do not have precise documentation.
When it comes to security issues, open source provide a lot of loopholes for hacking. Hackers and crackers usually learn about the application or operating system’s source code, it then becomes quite obvious that security breach becomes a major issue with such software (Feller & Fitzgerald, 2002).
In conclusion, open source software has several strengths but little weakness. As a result, to achieve maximum benefit from software field, both the closed and open source technologies should be combined (Lui & Chan, 2008).