Comparison of open source and closed source

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Open source - the source availability model used by free and open source software - and closed source are two approaches to the licensing of software.

Contents

Background

Under the closed source model source code is not released to the public. Closed source software usually is developed and maintained by a team who produces their product in a compiled executable state, which is what the market is allowed access to. Microsoft, the owner and developer of Windows and Microsoft Office, along with other major software companies, have long been proponents of this business model.

The FOSS model allows for able users to view and modify a product's source code. Common advantages cited by proponents for having such a structure are expressed in terms of trust, acceptance, teamwork and quality.[1]

A non-free license is used to limit what free software movement advocates consider to be the essential freedoms. A license, whether providing open source code or not, that does not stipulate the "four software freedoms",[2] are not considered "free" by the free software movement. A closed source license is one that limits only the availability of the source code. By contrast a copyleft license claims to protect the "four software freedoms" by explicitly granting them and then explicitly prohibiting anyone to redistribute the package or reuse the code in it to make derivative works without including the same licensing clauses. Some licenses grant the four software freedoms but allow redistributors to remove them if they wish. Such licenses are sometimes called permissive software licenses.[3] An example of such a license is the BSD license which allows derivative software to be distributed as non-free or closed source, as long as they give credit to the original designers.

FOSS can and has been commercialized by companies such as Red Hat, IBM and Novell.

Commercialization

Proprietary software

The primary business model for closed-source software involve the use of constraints on what can be done with the software and the restriction of access to the original source code. This can result in a form of imposed artificial scarcity on a product that is otherwise very easy to copy and redistribute. The end result is that an end-user is not actually purchasing software, but purchasing the right to use the software. To this end, the source code to closed-source software is considered a trade secret by its manufacturers.

FOSS

FOSS methods, on the other hand, typically don't limit the use of software in this fashion. Instead, the revenue model is based mainly on support services. Canonical Ltd. is one such company that gives its software away freely, but charges for support services. The source code of the software is usually given away, and pre-compiled binary software frequently accompanies it for convenience. As a result, the source code can be freely modified. However, there can be some license-based restrictions on re-distributing the software. Generally, software can be modified and re-distributed for free, as long as credit is given to the original manufacturer of the software. In addition, FOSS can generally be sold commercially, as long as the source-code is provided. There are a wide variety of free software licenses that define how a program can be used, modified, and sold commercially (see GPL, LGPL, and BSD-type licenses). FOSS may also be funded through donations.

Handling Competition

This model has proved somewhat successful, as witnessed in the Linux community. There are numerous GNU/Linux distributions available, but a great many of them are simply modified versions of some previous version. For example, Fedora Linux, Mandriva Linux, and PCLinuxOS are all derivatives of an earlier product, Red Hat Linux. In fact, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is itself a derivative of Fedora Linux. This is an example of one vendor creating a product, allowing a third-party to modify the software, and then creating a tertiary product based on the modified version. All of the products listed above are currently produced by rather successful software service companies.

Operating systems built on the Linux kernel are available for a wider range of processor architectures than Microsoft Windows, including PowerPC and SPARC. None of these can match the sheer popularity of the x86 architecture, nevertheless they do have significant numbers of users; Windows remains unavailable for these alternative architectures, although there have been such ports of it in the past.

The most obvious complaint against FOSS revolves around the fact that making money through some traditional methods, such as the sale of the use of individual copies and patent royalty payments, is much more difficult and sometimes impractical with FOSS. Moreover, many see the introduction of FOSS as damaging to the market for commercial software.[4][5][6][who?] Most software development companies sell licenses to use individual copies of software as their primary source of income, using a combination of copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret laws (collectively called intellectual property rights laws).[citation needed] Fees from sale and licensing of commercial software are the primary source of income for companies that sell software.

Open source software has a large number of alternative funding streams, which are actually better-connected to the real costs of creating and maintaining software[citation needed]. After all, the cost of making a copy of a software program is essentially zero, so per-use fees are perhaps unreasonable. At one time, open-source software development was almost entirely volunteer-driven, and although this is true for many small projects, many alternative funding streams have been identified and employed for FOSS:

  • Give away the program and charge for installation and support (used by many Linux distributions).
  • "Commoditize complements": make a product cheaper or free so that people are more likely to purchase a related product or service you do sell.
  • Cost avoidance / cost sharing: many developers need a product, so it makes sense to share development costs (this is the genesis of the X Window System and the Apache web server).

Increasingly, FOSS is developed by commercial organizations. In 2004, Andrew Morton noted that 37,000 of the 38,000 recent patches in the Linux kernel were created by developers directly paid to develop the Linux kernel. Many projects, such as the X Window System and Apache, have had commercial development as a primary source of improvements since their inception. This trend has accelerated over time[citation needed].

There are some who counter that the commercialization of FOSS is a poorly devised business model because commercial FOSS companies answer to parties with opposite agendas. On one hand commercial FOSS companies answer to volunteers developers, who are difficult to keep on a schedule, and on the other hand they answer to shareholders, who are expecting a return on their investment. Often FOSS development is not on a schedule and therefore it may have an adverse effect on a commercial FOSS company releasing software on time.[7]

Innovation

Open-source software has often been accused of being more derivative than innovative. This is true to some extent, mostly in the desktop arena. For example, GIMP is in many ways a reinvention of the functionality of Photoshop, while OpenOffice.org is primarily designed as a plug-compatible replacement for Microsoft Office except with support for many more formats.

Many of the largest well-known FOSS projects are either legacy code (e.g., FreeBSD or Apache) developed a long time ago independently of the free software movement, or by companies like Netscape (which open-sourced its code with the hope that they can compete better), or by companies like MySQL which use FOSS to lure customers for its more expensive licensed product. However, it is notable that most of these projects have seen major or even complete rewrites (in the case of the Mozilla and Apache 2 code, for example) and do not contain much of the original code.

Many innovations have come, and continue to come, from the open-source world:

  • The Gmail Filesystem is a good example of the collaborative nature of much open-source development. Building on FUSE (which allows filesystems to be implemented in userspace, instead of as code that needs to be loaded into the kernel) combined with libgmail, which is a Python library for programmatic access to a user's Gmail message store, the result is the ability to use the multiple gigabytes of Gmail message space as a fileserver accessible from anywhere on the Internet.
  • Perl, the pioneering open-source scripting language, made popular many features, like regular expressions and associative arrays, that were unusual at the time. The newer Python language continues this innovation, with features like functional constructs and class-dictionary unification.
  • dcraw is an open-source tool for decoding RAW-format images from a variety of digital cameras, which can produce better-quality output than the closed-source tools provided by the camera vendors themselves.
  • A number of laptop models are available with a particular emphasis on multimedia capabilities. While these invariably come preinstalled with a copy of Microsoft Windows, some of them[8][9] also offer an alternative "fast-boot" mode (such as Phoenix HyperSpace) based on GNU/Linux. This gets around the long time it can take to boot up Windows.
  • Songbird, Amarok and Exaile are FOSS music players that integrate internet-based data sources to an unprecedented degree, taking song information from MusicBrainz, related track information from last.fm, album cover art from amazon.com and displaying an artist's Wikipedia page within the player.
  • While admittedly inspired by Mac OS X's Quartz graphics layer, Compiz Fusion has pioneered the concept of "plug in" window decorators and animation effects. Users can develop their own creative and unique effects.

Business models

In its 2008 Annual Report, Microsoft stated that FOSS business models challenge its license-based software model and that the firms who use these business models do not bear the cost for their software development[clarification needed]. The company also stated in the report:[10][11]

Some of these [open source software] firms may build upon Microsoft ideas that we provide to them free or at low royalties in connection with our interoperability initiatives. To the extent open source software gains increasing market acceptance, our sales, revenue and operating margins may decline.

Open source software vendors are devoting considerable efforts to developing software that mimics the features and functionality of our products, in some cases on the basis of technical specifications for Microsoft technologies that we make available. In response to competition, we are developing versions of our products with basic functionality that are sold at lower prices than the standard versions.

See also

References

  1. The GNU Manifesto - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  2. The Free Software Definition - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  3. Various Licenses and Comments about Them - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  4. "[...] the documents show that while Microsoft may be dismissive of open source software in public, it considers it a serious competitor in private." -- quote from the "Documents_I_and_II" subsection of Microsoft Halloween documents leak article (specific version: circa 31 March 2009 (q.v.) Retrieved 2009-April 27.)
  5. The "Halloween VI" document appears to give convincing evidence that Microsoft had their reasons for trying to argue against the popularity of Gnu/Linux and other Free and open source software.
  6. Bill Gates, in his reply after the public repsonse to his own 1976 Open letter to hobbyists, said "Unfortunately, some of the companies I have talked to about microcomputer software are reluctant to have it distributed to the hobbyist, some of whom will steal it, when [...]".
  7. Integrating Open Source in Commercial Solutions
  8. Toshiba launches multimedia Qosmio notebooks | InfoWorld | News | 2004-07-22 | By Martyn Williams, IDG News Service
  9. PC World - Acer Readies New Notebook, Tablet PC
  10. Annual Report on Form 10-K
  11. Microsoft's annual report: Open-source mental block | The Open Road - The Business and Politics of Open Source by Matt Asay - CNET News.com
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