Perspective Number 1: It's All About The Community

Sep 03 2007

"What's worse than closed-source software? Closed-source software of which support has been discontinued by its owner."

Longer Lasting Software

Indeed, those words will sound familiar to anyone who ever had to rely on software which development got stopped without warning, with messages sent to its original developers remaining to no avail and leaving useful code unavailable. Take the following scenario: you've been using that cool RSS Reader for some time now. It boasts most of the features you need and what you know of its roadmap suits your expectations. Then one day its development gets stopped because the company refocused its activities on its core competency, accounting software. All of a sudden the bugs you thought would get fixed soon keep popping up while the software does not receive any further improvement. With Open-Source software, things could have come out quite differently. Once the original company had stopped its work, the community would have been able to take over and keep bringing improvements to the software. Good software needs not die because of one single decision.

Fewer Security Issues

The importance of having a vibrant community is not limited to the fact that someone exists who can keep software development going. Indeed, closed-source paves the way for a number of behaviors that do not make for good software. Says this recent TechCrunch article

  ...it is often claimed that open source software is more secure than closed source software, since there are many more eyes auditing the code and obfuscation can't be used as a security measure.

Meaning, members of your community will help you spot stuff you would never have noticed on your own. Meaning, they will be spending time reporting bugs, nailing usability issues, offering their advice and their help for free. Meaning, some of them will even come up with complete and definitive bug-fixing patches. For instance, Mozilla Firefox's bugs get patched five time faster than Internet Explorer's ones. 5 times less to take advantage of a flaw: there is no surprise why hackers do prefer closed-source software.

Higher Adoption Rate

On top of helping getting rid of bugs, a community offers a lot of fresh ideas as well as suggestions on how to improve a software's ergonomics. Happy users are involved in the project and therefore more likely to help the software spread, making its diffusion network wider. On the whole, a community helps saving on marketing costs by providing both valuable feedback and promotion effort. Says JBoss' Marc Fleury

But FOSS turns that equation on its head, again we have a better way to develop and distribute. An optimally functioning FOSS business model needs 20 cents of sales and marketing to acquire 1 dollar of maintenance, where a traditional software company will have to spend around 2 1/2 dollars. Get it?

Could things be made any clearer?

To summarize, enjoying a great user community is probably the best thing that will ever happen to your software, boasting improved notoriety and better security among the benefits it brings it.