Benefits of Open Source Go Well Beyond Cost Savings, IT Pros Say

Don Tennant
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Open source software is no longer seen by IT pros as simply a low-cost alternative to proprietary software. In fact, a large majority of IT pros prefer open source over proprietary software, not only because of cost, but because of continuity, control, and quality considerations, as well.

That’s one of the key findings of research recently conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Zimbra, a provider of commercial open source collaboration software in Frisco, Texas. Open source “provides improved control over your software and inherent security and privacy benefits brought to bear by a development community,” said Olivier Thierry, Zimbra’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. “These benefits are tied to the transparent nature of open source, which is taken a step further by commercial vendor support, ensuring long-term viability.”

Thierry noted the research found that three-quarters of IT professionals agree that commercial open source software offers better continuity.

“When IT operations are running smoothly, employees don’t notice them,” Thierry said. “However, if your service provider or software vendor goes out of business, that can throw quite a monkey wrench into IT operations. In a proprietary system, the likelihood of continued support for a defunct product is nil, as opposed to an open source project, where another vendor or even the community can provide continued support.”

Despite the benefits of commercial open source, the research found, companies have been slow to adopt it for collaboration. Thierry attributed that to bad brand image.

“For many years, non-IT business leaders have considered open source software the domain of developers and hackers,” he said. “This image placed an undue amount of trust in proprietary vendors, who are held accountable solely through monetary means, with no community to enforce transparency or verify quality, security and privacy. We found in the survey that two-thirds of IT professionals in the U.S. agree that commercial open source software means fewer bugs, and nearly as many believe it will boost quality compared to proprietary software.”

I asked Thierry if he thinks there’s a perception that open source applications are inherently less secure than proprietary applications. He said he does believe that’s the case, and he said that belief lies, ironically, in the community-driven nature of open source, which leads the uninformed to incorrectly believe it makes open source less secure.

“Transparency creates a community, which is a vast network of developers who are constantly testing, updating, and developing patches, the size of which is unmatched by proprietary alternatives,” Thierry said. “In fact, three-quarters of IT professionals agree that code transparency amplifies the security and trustworthiness of software applications.”


Thierry said a great example of the power of this community was found in the response to the Heartbleed vulnerability.

“When the Heartbleed vulnerability was published, countless end users found their digital lives laid bare, exposing their private lives,” he said. “In the business world, we had a similar exposure to intellectual property, employee records, trade secrets, etc.”

Thierry said open source and proprietary IT vendors were both caught off-guard, and the entire software industry rushed to address the vulnerability.

“Because of their respective communities, many open source vendors addressed Heartbleed in a matter of hours, while proprietary software customers were left exposed for days,” he said. “What’s more, you can see the Heartbleed patch in OpenSSL’s software repository.”

The research also addressed the views of IT professionals on security and privacy. I’ll cover that topic in a forthcoming post.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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