Moving to an Open Source World


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This video segment discusses the pros and cons of independence from a vendor. It also explains how some of those disadvantages can be offset by exchanging some of that independence by hooking up with a open source support vendor.


  • Switching costs
  • lock-in
  • operations
  • updates
  • scaling
  • contracts
  • standards

About this video

Karl Beecher
First online
25 December 2018
Online ISBN
Copyright information
© Karl Beecher 2019

Video Transcript

[Audio Begins] [0:00:00]

Karl Beecher: As a consequence of the open source licensing model, you can become independent of a vendor. But as this segment explains, independence brings both costs and benefits. In proprietary model of software, source code is a copyrighted trade secret. It’s the property of the vendor, and no one else gets access to it. That gives the vendor control over the code’s distribution, creating for the customer a dependence on the vendor. To what extent depends on the terms of the deal. You kind of get fixes and updates from the original vendor or perhaps an authorized partner because nobody else can update the code. The vendor might be the only party allowed to operate the software. The license might limit how many copies of the program you may install, requiring you to pay more if you want to scale up. The agreement might even lock the customer into a relationship for a specific duration of time.

Exclusive use of that vendor’s technology and standards creates a resultant switching cost, which is the associated inconvenience and monetary cost of migrating to new software. You can think of it like switching your mobile phone provider. Your new provider might give you a better deal, but you have to factor in all the work of making the switch. The filling out new forms, purchasing a new phone and a SIM card, reinstalling all your apps, sharing your new number with your friends, and so on. Switching away from a proprietary vendor can be costly because you can’t get that software from anybody else. So many things may have to change.

In contract to the proprietary model, source code in the open source model is a shared resource, rather than someone’s exclusive property. The same programs are available to anyone who wants them. Open source providers can take the resource and package it up into a product anyway they like. Take, for example, Linux. Popular open source operating system. Now technically, Linux is just a kernel, which is the core of an operating system. It takes technical skill to get it working, and it’s not much use even when you do, seeing as it doesn’t include even basic applications like a text editor or a browser. But the code of that kernel is all publicly available, so anyone can take it and package it up with some useful applications to make a product out of it. And that’s exactly what’s been done for many years. Since the 1990’s, countless Linux distributions have been released. Some are easy to use, and some are more advanced. Some are bare bones, and some are packed with features. So a general purpose, but some are tailored towards specific domains and so on.

This openness has consequences for your independence. So updates and enhancements are made publicly available as well. You don’t have to enter into agreements or contracts with anyone to gain access to them. And you can install them or not according to your own schedule. You can operate the software yourself to whatever extent you like. You can install as many copies of an open source program as you want, and fewer barriers to switching exist. So consider that last point from the perspective of Linux distributions. Let’s say you operate a particular Linux distribution, but then you decide you want to change to another one. All Linux distributions are built on the same kernel. Largely speaking, they use the same standards, and the same applications work in all of them. That means fewer things need to change if you make a switch.

Of course, as independence brings benefits, so to it brings costs, just like growing up and leaving home means fewer things being done for you and more responsibility put on your shoulders. And so moving to open source software shifts more responsibilities onto you. As the earlier cost segment in this video explained, you’ll spend more time doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily have to do if you’re using proprietary software. But that segment also showed that a middle ground for those who can’t or don’t wish to take on all that extra work. A way that combines the benefits of the open source approach and the hand-holding approach. So you can pay a third-party vendor to manage your open source software for you. So as well as paying for it, you will also agree to trade your independence in exchange for their assistance. How much you give up depends on the terms of the deal, but don’t forget that the nature of open source software allows a marketplace of competing vendors to exist. This gives you greater choice than proprietary software typically can, as well as the option to switch to a different vendor later. For example, you might begin by choosing RedHat Linux, but then later switch systems to running on SUSE’s Linux instead.

And so key lesson, use of open source software increases your independence, but also your responsibilities. Complete independence is an option for those in a position to accept it. But third-party support from open source vendors exists for those who aren’t.

In the next segment, we’ll look at transparency.

[0:05:19] [Audio Ends]