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Ben Halpern for CodeNewbie

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Open-Source or Proprietary Software?

The debate between open-source and proprietary software has been ongoing for years. Open-source advocates maintain that it promotes collaboration, transparency, and innovation, while proprietary software proponents argue that it provides better security, control, and support.

What do you think? Do you prefer open-source or proprietary software, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Top comments (16)

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

There's a debate?

Non-free software is bad for everyone. That's pretty much it.

Now, people have reasons for choosing to keep their code private, and sometimes they might have merit.
5 years down the line, if you can't open a document because the company that made your word processor went under, or changed their mind about selling the software, you're out of luck. If you're a lawyer, or a doctor, or an engineer, you can imagine how this might affect your clients.

So the very least you can do without being a net drain on humanity is, "open spec".

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (double agent) • Edited

What's you describe is not open-vs-closed source. You can be in the same situation with important documents that were stored in a custom format of an obscure open-source software, and that makes reusing it more troublesome. (Sure I will fork LibreOffice by myself, right)

Your last line got it right, it's about using standards that are both formalized and widespread.

lexlohr profile image
Alex Lohr

Proprietary software is easier to monetize, which means that most of it is written with financial gain in mind. That's not a bad thing, because it allows developers to earn enough to have time to write open source software.

However it's certainly not more secure, since features sell better than security fixes, so you can be sure that the latter will only be implemented if not implementing it might incur serious legal issues.

I don't quite get the point about control. With closed source, the main point of control is the publisher of the software, not you. I would deem that a disadvantage.

Support is difficult to judge overall. For a lot of open source software, the community support is excellent, certainly far better than that of many large software companies. I wouldn't say that the difference depends on if software is open or closed source, but rather on those providing the support.

So all in all, neither is inherently good or bad. At the end of the day, it all depends on the people behind it.

frankfont profile image
Frank Font • Edited

I've run into that very dynamic in my own passion project of visualizing important concepts in an actionable way. I tried building the software as 100% open-source (bigfathom) a few years ago -- and ended up building it myself because I could not find others to build it with me.

Then I pivoted to a rewrite ( same concept ) as a closed source product and found collaborators that invested their time with me. That product is Twigflo and has over 500 user accounts at this point.

lexlohr profile image
Alex Lohr

In a perfect world, developing open source software would pay for itself and every developer would do it.

Unfortunately, a perfect world does not exist until we build it ourselves, so we make do with what we have.

pinotattari profile image
Riccardo Bernardini

proprietary software proponents argue that it provides better security, control, and support.

I have never been convinced about that. In my opinion large open source software projects can be much better even in that respect.

Take for example the classical case that is presented to prove that proprietary software is more secure: the Heartbleed bug. Many point out to that as a failure of the open source model, but I actually argue that Heartbleed shows the actual strength of open source since we got aware of that.

If Heartbleed was present in a proprietary software, maybe we would be still unaware of it. Can you really be 100% sure that, say, Windows 11 has not a similar or maybe more serious bug? Note: I am not claiming that Windows 11 has a similar bug, only that it could have it and we will never know.

About support, it still depends on the project size: large projects like inkscape and blender have a huge community and it is quite easy to find solutions to your problems. Also, large projects have some entity (usually foundations) behind them and they can provide, for a fee, the same support that you can get from your average proprietary software.

Of course, the tiny project, maintained by a single person during free time it is another matter, but it is also kind of unfair to compare it with large proprietary software.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (double agent) • Edited

My answer is 42 because you need to be more fine grained than "open source" vs "closed source".

  1. Open source projects that are done "just for fun" or for learning are always fine, I think nobody disagrees here.
  2. Big Tech does Big Open Source because capitalism. More efficient engineering + Big PR for recruiting purpose.
  3. Open Source projects with a sustainable business model are impressive and cool, also difficult. Think hard how you connect the dots.
  4. Open source project that are ambitious and successfull enough, but completely understaffed and underfinanced, that's not a good thing IMHO. They frustrate the users and burn out the maintainers.
  5. So I'm fine with a proprietary product that provides great value to customer and ask her to pay in return. You can release subcomponents of the product as open source. But not the whole thing because it's good to be able to pay your rent and your employees. JetBrains and the Basecamp are good examples of companies that does that well.
liyasthomas profile image
Liyas Thomas
jrking365 profile image
Jean Roger Nigoumi Guiala

I think Open-source all the way but there are a few issues that people find with Open-source that if addressed will make it the go to move :

  • It is easier to make money from proprietary software, Open-source usually relies on donation and it's sad to see that many company that uses open-source project don't sponsor them... If we could find a way to fix it , should be great;

  • People think proprietary software are safer since the code is hidden ... it's an argument that is valid ... But I believe with open-source it allows people to work together and fix security issues more easily, more eyes on the code is always good.

the main thing is , Open-source is the way to go , but we still have a lot of work to do around maintaining and enabling open-source projects

theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring

I'm all-in on open-source:

  • It's the low-code approach; low-code is the best code.
  • Lowers the barrier to experiment and go to market
  • OSS projects can evolve into for-profit business delivering complimentary services
  • Open Source is transparent

On the topic of security, I have open source implemented in SOC2 Type II, NIST 800-53, and FedRAMP contexts for the products under my control. For the vast majority of use-cases across all industries, open source is more than sufficient for our operational requirements.

Control and support is in theory non-issues for open source, but experience has taught me otherwise. There are a lot of OSS packages that are abandoned without notice in the ecosystem, and I've personally watched as my futile efforts to contribute fixes went ignored by giant organizations like Oracle.

mfurmaniuk profile image

Vi or EMACS! ST:TNG or ST! Kirk or Picard! Microsoft or Macintosh!

Plenty of bigger debates have happened, and will continue to happen.

For me its always been simpler with my Business Case - will my Finance and Legal dept allow me to get X software, or am I going to use something free? Budgetary constraints are usually what I review before I start down one of the paths.

If its personal I prefer Open Source, a well defined and engaged community gets you answers or resolutions faster at times than an email to support, depending on what it is you are having an issue with.

marcello_h profile image

idk. I lean towards open source, or at least: open data, where I can always choose to use my data somehow.
But I totally understand closed source.
I wonder how many people answer "open source" and still use an IDE that is closed source. (it's really open data that is beneficial for everybody)

benhultin profile image
ben hultin

Well supported open source software has some serious advantages

  • A lot more eyes on the code
  • Not driven by profits
  • Bugs tend to be fixed faster
  • Not sensitive to management takeovers (Think Elon with Twitter)
  • Development done is more feature and improvement driven
  • Community driven, less executive driven
  • Increases competition
  • provides access to affordable software to all.
lkedves profile image
Lorand Kedves • Edited

When a debate goes on for decades, there is a problem with the question. Short answer: open or closed source, it does not matter that much. Look for knowledge, understand tradeoffs, find a reasonable balance.

--- TL;DR ---

Theory: Software industry (thanks to Bill Gates, said Steve Jobs) renamed "knowledge" to "intellectual property". If that's a property, you may choose to share it (the drive behind open source, in many cases for some kind of fame or popularity) or to sell it (that may lead to somewhat more stable and organized solutions but in general safe bets and market share struggles). Neither of them is guarantee for being better than the other, you should judge by other factors.
Business has its own gravity and you can't fly just by denying it.

Practice: I prefer tools that solve exactly one problem well, with the necessary dependency and no more. Standards like JSON (to store "any" data), ABNF (to describe "any" language including itself). As a Java coder, I loved libraries like the MVEL script engine or JSON.simple.

bybydev profile image

I have a feeling companies are taking advantages of open-source too much lately, I don't get the feeling of real "open-source" anymore.

virtualmachine profile image

I believe the two camps exist for different purposes and sometimes one camp influences the other and vice versa. The argument whether one is better or not depends on who you talk to and what examples people give when they say proprietary and open source software for a particular category. To the average person proprietary might be better because they have a GUI while to a dev open source is better because of the ability to tinker irrespective of the UI.
I believe both sides have some role they play in the software development space based on who they cater to and the purposes they serve. If I wasn't a developer I probably would never touch open source code and that isn't a bad thing and doesn't nullify open source projects but as a dev open source are critical to my daily work and still don't nullify any closed source alternatives. But one pain point with closed source software is that they are walled gardens and companies who develop those in those gardens should reduce their walls. A comment on this page said something about conforming to open standards, that's one way to reduce the length of the wall.