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10 Common Myths About Open Source Software

Ralph Windsor discusses some myths about open source software.

Introduction

In this article, I will examine a number of the myths about open source software and try to clear up some misconceptions which I regularly encounter.

If you intend to invest into a DAM system, it is important that you evaluate arguments posed for and against types of software license to decide if they apply to you. The license should not be the sole criteria for choosing a product, however, as I shall illustrate, using an open source DAM system can offer some compelling benefits.

Before we commence, a disclaimer. I am a representative of a consultancy business that uses open source DAM software as well as integrating DAM systems with other proprietary and open source solutions.  In the past my firm also developed product also (although we do not any longer). While I have made every effort to be objective and factual in my analysis, you need to do your own research and form an independent opinion about any conclusions reached.

Myth 1: Open source software costs no money

There is an implicit assumption that open source software costs no money and this is often the original reason why many users seek an open source product. However, this is not the defining characteristic of open source, it is the ability to access the source code of the software if you are user of it.

An open source DAM vendor can charge you for a software licence and still be open source. There is not necessarily a direct relationship between a type of license and what you have to pay to obtain it. The ‘free’ part means that you have the freedom to access the source code and change it yourself providing you abide by the terms of the license.

Myth 2: Cost-free downloadable software and open source software means the same thing

Deciding to offer no-cost download of a DAM system is not exclusively an open source strategy but more of a marketing tactic intended to increase user numbers. The worst outcome for most software is having no one use it. Just like websites need traffic, magazines need readers and TV channels need viewers, if software does not have users it lacks an audience and a platform to grow and acquire momentum from which revenue can be generated.

A vendor may choose to solve this problem by offering a public download of their DAM system and to give themselves a competitive edge in terms of market attention, but that does not mean they are open source. The only defining criteria is that all of the source code is available and open to the users of the software irrespective of what method was used to distribute it and whether costs were applied or not.

Myth 3: Open source and Cloud DAM are different

It is common to find DAM systems being classified using one of three categories:

  • Open source
  • Proprietary (closed source)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) or Cloud

The reality is that Cloud/SaaS DAM can be either proprietary or open source, so the third category is invalid. It is quite common for open source DAM systems to have Cloud hosting options and be implemented with that environment in mind. Cloud/SaaS describes software that is designed for multiple simultaneous groups of end users (‘multi-tenanted’ to use the terminology) and typically delivered to users via Cloud hosting providers (e.g. Amazon). It has no relationship upon the license used by the vendor.

There are only two factors which prevent all DAM vendors with a Cloud offer from offering their products as open source: willingness to do so and use of third party technologies which they lack the rights to distribute the source code for.

Myth 4: Open source DAM is not ‘Enterprise’

‘Enterprise Software’ is a subjective term applied to suggest the suitability of a product for the needs of larger organisations. The more important criteria is whether a vendor’s software is right for your enterprise or not. Open source is only a license that determines how you may use the software, it does not prescribe any particular set of features which you should expect and therefore it is possible so obtain open source DAM which is both enterprise or non-enterprise in nature.

If you choose some relatively non-contentious enterprise software characteristics such as, the use of corporate friendly toolsets like Java, .NET, SQL Server and Oracle you can still easily find open source DAM software offered by different vendors that use them. Similarly, the scalability and integration options with corporate IT capabilities are all widely available in multiple open source DAM systems – even those not built in the aforementioned technologies. That open source DAM is non-enterprise friendly, is at best an out of date perspective and at worst, a complete fabrication.

Myth 5: Open source software has no copyright restrictions

Another common myth is that because the product and source code is offered freely that the developers have given up their copyright and you can just take it and do whatever you like. The extent to which you are able to exploit the source code to the software depends very much on the  licence, just like other intellectual property.

Open source licenses aim to protect the rights of the original author while affording the users of the software some freedom and protection to view and modify via a legal framework. They represent a more equitable relationship between software author and end user that protects the interests of both parties, but they are still protected by copyright and intellectual property law.

An open source DAM solution avoids the need for complex software source code escrow schemes and in organisations that mandate them for proprietary software (e.g. public sector users) this can save months of protracted contractual negotiation and bureaucracy plus all the attendant staff and legal costs incurred by either party.

Myth 6: The Cloud makes open source DAM irrelevant

A popular myth is that if use a Cloud service you may ignore the characteristics of the underlying software and leave everything in the hands of the service provider. If they can be guaranteed to support your solution indefinitely even if your needs or their business change then that might be true – but does that sound likely?

The most practical way to protect yourself from risks with Cloud hosted DAM is to insist on open source software. If the vendor ceases to trade or merges with someone else and decides they can no longer support your DAM system, using an open source product gives you an option that allows you to assume control and protect your investment.

For larger organisations with many users and assets, the risk management advantages are potentially the most important USP of an open source product over proprietary alternatives and the factor that makes Cloud hosted DAM a tenable proposition for a corporate user.

Myth 7: Open source DAM systems lack support

There is a common myth that open source software lacks support from the vendors because the original product might be given away for no cost. This misconception ignores the fact that in nearly all cases, you can obtain support if you require it and are prepared to pay for a service agreement.

I am not aware of a single active open source DAM vendor who does not offer an optional support provision, whether delivered by the originators of the software or through partners and service providers. Unlike closed source DAM software, with open source alternatives you also have the option of taking this service in-house and using staff, consultants or other suppliers. The support choices for open source software are therefore at least as developed as those for proprietary and the assertion that open source software is poorly supported is not correct.

Myth 8: Open source products are developed by amateurs

A popular myth is that open source software is unprofessional and developed part-time by amateur or hobbyist developers working from their bedrooms. While this might have had some basis 15-20 years ago when the concept was still acquiring momentum, it is definitely not the case now.

The number of larger open source vendors (in both DAM and other fields) is increasing at rapid pace because there is a strong demand from prospective users to avoid the restrictive nature of the proprietary model. These days, you will find that venture capitalists and private equity investors are likely to consider taking a position in an open source vendor because of the high levels of demand for open source software and the resulting investment opportunity that exists.

The proposition that open source lacks professionalism is an out of date myth based on a lack of understanding about the modern day priorities and requirements of end users.

Myth 9: Open source is insecure

The argument that open source DAM software is uniquely insecure because it is possible to see vulnerabilities in the code is another fantasy you may also encounter.  Claiming that proprietary software is more secure because there is no transparency is analogous to closing the windows and doors to your house without locking a few and hoping that a burglar will only check the ones you remembered to secure.  The ‘security through obscurity’ argument has been generally acknowledged as an ineffective technique for protecting software and the consensus view is that the availability of the source code has little bearing upon how secure the software might be.

Myth 10: Open source is a fad

The last myth I will consider is that open source is an unsustainable fad or trendy bandwagon that companies are falling over themselves to be seen to be involved with.

While some vendors may want to try and exploit the PR opportunities of open source without directly committing to it, the number of open source products that are distributed using a recognised open source license has increased significantly in the last decade. A recent Gartner research report suggested that over half of those organisations surveyed have adopted an open source solutions as part of their overall IT strategy. A range of studies have demonstrated exponential growth patterns in the open source sector across a wide range of measures. All these indicate that far from being a fad, open source is becoming an unstoppable force because customers want it and smart vendors can deliver it profitably.

Conclusion

As a prospective user of a DAM system, you may be more concerned with features and service offerings when considering the various options available for your budget.  To suggest that you should consider open source DAM systems exclusively would be equally as invalid as many of the myths I have discussed.  Digital Asset Management is in an integrating technology used to bring together media from multiple sources and that frequently may require the use of components with different kinds of licenses – both open and closed source.  Insisting on pure open source solutions may not be practical depending on your circumstances. The vendor’s choice of software license, however, can have a profound effect upon the flexibility and options available, limiting or enabling opportunities to extend or adapt the product to suit your needs over time and therefore its significance can be far greater than an initial analysis might indicate.

A typical corporate DAM has a lifespan of 5-8 eight years, during this period your requirements will almost certainly change and it is therefore essential that you consider the implications of the software license and any restrictions placed upon your ability to adapt it if the vendor cannot or will not assist you.  If you use software with an open source license, the balance of power between vendor and user is held in check and there is a built-in motivation for the vendor to be responsive to your needs rather than a ‘lock-in’ tactic that seeks to exploit corporate inertia as a customer retention strategy.

Those vendors that embrace open source licenses will be able to gain a competitive advantage over proprietary alternatives as the myths are dispelled and open source adoption rates continue their rapid rate of growth. It is my belief that the majority of end users of DAM systems will ultimately begin to insist upon open source as the only form of license that affords them the level of flexibility and transparency required to protect their software investments and generate a satisfactory return from them.

 

About The Author

Ralph Windsor is Project Director at DAM consultants, Daydream and a contributing editor to DAM News.

Website: http://www.daydream.co.uk

Twitter: @daydreamuk

Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/daydream

 


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