Professional open source
Professional open source is an open-source software business model where an open-source software vendor generates revenue from paid professional services, maintenance and support provided along with the software. Some open-source software vendors also provide commercial licenses of open-source software or customized versions of open-source software to specific customers .
As open-source software began to become popular in the 1990s with the introduction of Linux, business hesitated to adopt it because of fears that no single entity guaranteed its stability or support. As a consequence, larger businesses would often choose commercially distributed software over a product that was released under an open-source license. However, there has been much growth in the number of professional open-source companies – made popular by companies like Liferay, Inc., eXo Platform, OpenSearchServer, Red Hat, MySQL AB, and JBoss. The business model of these companies tries "to offer open-source software with a free license, while using professional services, maintenance and support for these products to derive revenue."
A dominant factor contributing to the preference of proprietary software as oppose to open source software is the common misconception that there is more support available for the former than the latter. Developers of open source software are under no licencing agreement to provide any technical support for their software, nor is any particular organisation responsible for doing so. However, professional open source provides technical support for users through one of the following two approaches and is a prime example of how users can counter this issue.
Part of the package
Certain vendors of open source software such as Red Hat include technical support as part of the package they provide. Staying with Red Hat as an example, they offer three levels of support for their version of enterprise Linux. The first of which is self-support which is simply the open source software with no support for the user. Secondly, they offer a standard level which includes support via the internet and telephone for an unlimited number of cases during business hours. Red Hat also offer a premium level of support which would be provided at a much higher price but would provide support to the user 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for severe cases of technical difficulties. Red Hat is not the only company providing support as part of the software package, other companies with similar strategies include Canonical, AT&T, Rackspace, SUSE, HP, IBM and Nebula.
Optional Extra Support
Another approach which is used by open source software vendors when providing users of their software with technical support is to provide it as an optional extra. An example of a company offering this service is Ubuntu. Ubuntu provides an open source operating system for a range of devices. Customers also have the option of subscribing to Ubuntu Advantage which is their professional support package.
Open Source Benefits
The number of bugs found in the source code of open source software is gradually decreasing, and in some cases it has been found that proprietary software contains more bugs that open source software built for the same purpose. A common reason for this is the fact that the source code is editable by anyone who wants access to it, therefore software developers are able to remove any bugs and errors as soon as they come across them.
The obvious advantage of using open source software in business models is the monetary savings that can be made through doing so. As there are no direct costs involved with using open source software, it can be said that businesses can save fortunes through not having to pay large amounts of money for costly proprietary software. In 2008 the Standish Group reported a drop in revenue of $60 billion in the propriety software industry due to the adoption of open source software. This also suggests that users had saved a combined $60 billion through using open source software instead of proprietary software.
A feature of open source software which has made it more favourable than proprietary software is the ability to modify the code to suit the needs of a particular user. An example of this was when it was used by NASA for their opsLAN system. “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could," said Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance.
Reasons for Favouring Alternative Software
Alternatively to professional open source software, businesses may look into proprietary. There are several reasons why this may be a better option despite the mentioned benefits of open source software.
Open source software systems are not sold to generate profit, therefore they tend not to be particularly well suited for all end users and are often developed to suit highly technical users with similar IT backgrounds as the developer of the software. Therefore factors such as ease of use and cleanliness of the user interface are often overlooked.
External support for open source software often comes at a cost, whereas proprietary software packages usually come with free technical support through on-line technical support guides, forums and video tutorials. All of which are specific to the programme. Similar support for open source software is available but very scarce and, when found, likely to require a monetary payment.
Another reason why businesses may favour proprietary software over open source is that despite the fact that the source code being open to the public means that users can eliminate bugs or generally improve the open source software, it also means that malicious users can access the code and possibly infect the source code with further bugs and errors. Events like these have occurred many times, some of which had catastrophic effects on their victims such as the Bash virus and the Heartbleed bug.
Ultimately the businesses needs and current situation would need to be assessed in order to determine whether proprietary software or open source software would be the most beneficial.
As well as the support offered from the vendor of professional open source software packages, there are alternative methods of receiving technical support for open source software.
Free communal support is available on-line for most open source software packages. Mozilla Firefox, for instance, offers a service called ‘Army of Awesome’. This support system allows users to post their queries to Mozilla through Twitter, the queries can then be answered by contributors. Other packages such as Linux have on-line forums dedicated to individuals and small businesses. Similarly to ‘Army of Awesome’, Linux users can post their queries to the dedicated forum and wait for a response from another member of the forum.
Independent IT consultant firms can also provide technical support for certain open source software. Some consultant firms, such as Unicon and OpenLogic specialise solely on open source software and can provide assistance with a range of technical difficulties. Some firms will charge a fee for this service whereas others provide the service for free.
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