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Using Open Source Software for Business

How widely is open source software used to tackle business tasks?

The use of open source software to tackle business tasks comes with a couple of caveats.


First, freeware and open source are not always the same thing. Open source includes dozens of licenses that define the terms and conditions for software use. These licenses determine whether you can use open source software in commercial projects or whether it is for internal use only.


Second, it is important to understand how to apply open source software in business. For example, to incorporate third-party free software in a proprietary product, the company needs to understand the behavior of such software and determine who will address the many technical issues that will inevitably arise. Not all developers of free software provide technical support, and they may not be able to respond to requests since their solutions are non-commercial. So these tasks fall on the shoulders of the company’s internal employees, thus increasing the payroll. The company may also employ third-party developers to create the desired solution based on open source and then support it. In this case, that free software is not really free for the company.


However, in general, open source is used in business quite widely: more than half of the corporate software is based on open source. Productivity software such as Open Office and Libre Office is widespread. Organizations often use free software to create websites, etc.

Do companies usually release the software dedicated for certain internal tasks to the open market under free licenses? How often does the companies' leadership approve of such practices?

Today on the market, you can see a lot of free software developed by corporations instead of individual developers. The most striking example is the Android operating system. Often, companies provide task-specific applications for free use: for example, Netflix some time ago offered incident investigation software.


And, of course, they do not do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Companies follow their commercial software development strategy, where the goal is making money. For example, they can take a finished module of their product and open it for public use. It will attract the attention of the developer community. In the future, someone will update the code and publish it for other developers to pick it up and continue the development. This way the free project will live on, and the company will start earning from the corresponding ecosystem.


Take Android, for example – it would have never reached such a large scale, were it not for the army of developers around the world who put their efforts into it for free. Android would not be as popular if not for the premium Google Mobile Services. In fact, the free modules of Android helped Google promote this mobile OS around the world and make money on its commercial part. Thus, it is possible to make money on complementary services for open source software, which includes support, customization, hosting, etc. And the companies’ leaders will support this practice if there is a clear understanding of how the company can profit from the free parts of its software.


How often do you need to adapt "wild" Open Source software? How much work does it involve and how much time does it consume? Who is usually responsible for it?

It depends on what business tasks the free software is intended to tackle. For example, you rarely need to adapt free productivity software as it allows users to work with tables, documents, and presentations by default. If you need a particular OS, pick one with a user-friendly shell from the many available options. If we consider corporate software, such as business process automation, the adaptation difficulty depends on the alignment of your tasks and the capabilities of open source software that suits these tasks the most. The bigger the gap between your needs and what’s on the market, the more work the process requires.


Adaptation of free software to company needs falls either on internal staff or on external third-party developers. The former involves hiring new members or paying extra to existing ones.


User and developer community feedback. How is it organized? Are there tools to request new features to be added to the software? How time-consuming is the process compared to commercial software?

Feedback is provided in different ways. It depends on whether it’s a corporation or an individual who releases open source software. Usually, the interaction is done through the developer community, where you can post a request, feature request, etc. However, this option is not always available — in some cases, there is a license that doesn’t force anyone to update the code, meaning that the features are added only if someone actually wants to write them. In fact, feedback is the factor that distinguishes free software from a commercial product. A commercial company has to listen to the users of its product; with open source, it all depends solely on the goodwill of the developer. In general, it is highly doubtful that some third party will implement the feature you desire for free. This is only possible if you are lucky enough that the feature is also requested by a large number of other users.

Releasing proprietary products based on open source software. What brings the added value?

The development of proprietary products aligns with the company’s commercial strategies. Open source modules can constitute added value if a company believes that adding them to the product is worthwhile and the product time to market can be reduced as a result. Moreover, there must be a suitable license for adding the modules. Another example is when a new feature is highly requested for a commercial product. In this case, the company can scour the market, find a generally suitable but mediocre free software, and add it to its product as a temporary solution. This is usually done when the customers need the feature urgently, and there is nothing better to be found. Then at a comfortable pace, the company can develop the necessary code and replace the temporary solution later.

Open Source parasites — are there many of them? How do you avoid accusations of being a parasite?

Unfortunately, parasitism is here to stay: people grab some Open Source software, not allowed for commercial use, develop their own solutions based on it, and release it on the market. In general, however, it all depends on whether the developer — an individual or a corporation — is interested in keeping track of abuse. Such accusations most often arise when dedicated Open Source users or company’s competitors learn that the company has built free software that is not allowed for commercial use into its product. Forum threads heat up, competitors may engage in negative campaigning. Of course, we must refrain from the unregulated use of free software licenses.

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