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Is Free and Open-Source Software More Reliable?

kailyons profile image KaiLikesLinux ・4 min read

Open-Source VS Proprietary software is a debate long heated. With GNU having the article "Free Software is More Reliable!" I really wanted to put the claims to the test. As a FOSS advocate, I wanted to really challenge my own personal thoughts and beliefs to the test.

Let's start by the claims by both side:

Pro FOSS claims Pro Proprietary
More eyes = more fixes Stronger guide to an idea
More contributors work free More people who have work experience
Less unchecked vulnerabilities Vulnerabilities are harder to find
More features More stability

These are the points that both sides give to the concept. Let's start by the Pro FOSS claims. Anything marked with an "T" means it is a "valid enough" claim, which means it is true but some minor debate points are possible. Anything marked with an "F" means it is completely false.

True/False Pro FOSS claims
T More eyes = more fixes
T More contributors work free
T Less unchecked vulnerabilities
T More features

All of it is true, so this is a win for FOSS right? No, because for the proprietary claims:

True/False Pro Proprietary
T Stronger guide to an idea
T More people who have work experience
T Vulnerabilities are harder to find
T More stability

So the Pro Proprietary software people have not lost. Wait wait wait, why are these all true!? What do the claims mean? Let me explain.

Pro FOSS definitions

"More eyes = more fixes"

This means any broken code is faster to find, because more people can find them and actually submit a fix for them.

"More contributors work free"

FOSS is well known to be a volunteer based system, meaning more people actually care and don't just do it for the $$$.

"Less unchecked vulnerabilities"

While vulnerabilities are found A LOT more often, they also get patched ten times as fast as a vulnerability in proprietary software.

"More features"

This means more community built features exist. This means there are more tools, extensions, and other things. This can help with work flow and all that jazz.

Pro Proprietary definitions

"Stronger guide to an idea"

This means the idea of the software is more set in stone than in FOSS. While FOSS often splits and forks, proprietary has one stable plan and idea.

"More people who have work experience"

This just means, people who work on this are hired to make the software, which can be argued as a good thing.

"Vulnerabilities are harder to find"

This is self-explanatory. Because no-one can see or edit the code without authorization (or lots of work) the software's vulnerabilities are harder to find, though they are still there and just as numerous if not more compared to FOSS counterparts.

More stability

You can say the same thing for FOSS software, but the idea the code is ready for all enterprises as they want it. Simple premise.

Okay, so we have our definitions for the positives, but anti arguments is where things come into question. We hear the top five cons from the FOSS community so let's see the validity of three points Anti-FOSS people speak on all the time, especially related to reliability.

True/False Claims
F FOSS software is only for hobbyists (no professionals)
F Proprietary software has NO open-source in it
F FOSS is harder to use and download
F FOSS is unsafe to use in enterprise
F No enterprise company uses FOSS

These are the major claims I see as an open-source advocate, especially when it comes to reliability.

Claim: FOSS software is only for hobbyists (no professionals)
Fact Check: Open-source has professional fields, think stuff like Linux Sysadmins or every programming position to exist with almost any programming language (including C#, C/C++, Python, Go, and more).

Claim: Proprietary software has NO open-source in it
Fact Check: Unless it was built ground-up (which is rare), then there will be open-source libraries. Even Windows 10 and MacOS utilize open-source software.

Claim: FOSS is harder to use and download
Fact Check: If it exists, it prolly has someone who supports your OS platform OR at least has easy to follow instructions for installation. It's rare to find FOSS software without binaries for at least Windows 10.

Claim: FOSS is unsafe to use in enterprise
Fact Check: Actually no. The thing is, most enterprises use at least ONE open-source technology, most commonly Linux is at the top of that list. Enterprises care about cost efficiency, something FOSS excels at.

Claim: No enterprise company uses FOSS
Fact Check: Actually all of the big names do. Yes, this includes Oracle, Adobe, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Alphabet Inc, Tesla, HP, Dell, and a million others.

To conclude this mess of an article, FOSS is more reliable, enough to the point all major companies probably use at least one FOSS technology.

Discussion (3)

Editor guide
kovah profile image
Kevin Woblick

I think it's not that easy to claim that "open source is more reliable" without any differentiation.
If you take a look at the big open source projects, like Linux OS, programming languages like Python, or generally very popular software like Curl, your claim is absolutely correct. Those projects have like a thousands eyes staring at the code, they are used by thousands of enterprise-level companies all around the world and are probably more reliable than any closed source software.

If if comes to smaller projects, this might not be true anymore. Most small projects have only one maintainer, the software is not used by companies but only individuals, and so on. Closed source projects, in comparison, is mostly backed by money as it's either sold or has other financial backing. I could imagine, that this software is then more reliable than other software of the same field as the maintainer have a financial interest in being stable and reliable.

kailyons profile image
KaiLikesLinux Author

I disagree, smaller projects have fewer eyes, sure, but as hackers and virus makers target Windows for its market share, smaller projects are just as secure and reliable because there is less targeting of that software to cause intentional bugs. A hacker or virus maker will not target the small fish, they go for big fish. While it might only have one maintainer, small open-source projects do get adopted from time to time by large corporations (whether to make things slightly easier or other reasons). Not all FOSS software will be used by corporations, but a lot of it might be. And with closed-source, the claim "that this software is then more reliable than other software of the same field as the maintainer have a financial interest in being stable and reliable," it is not usually correct by any means. While yes, there is a "financial interest," remember that the person(s) behind the project have no outside contributions, meaning fixes are slower and more botched than professionally made, to later fix with time. You are right about the fact they do have financial support, but it isn't enough to say that a small team will actually try to make great software, they just need it to be good enough. With open-source on the other hand, passion drives the software, and if a small team exists, even if the software stops development, it will never truly die. Proprietary is FAR less stable and reliable in long-term support. Let's say Adobe randomly comes out as bankrupt, and they file to shut down all operations, what would companies do if they used Adobe products? Well they will need to go through the massive expense of switching to different software and cloud solutions. If an open-source company like Canonical went under, hundreds of developers are ready to pick up the open-source technologies and keep them alive. If a small team worked on an open-source project that was used by NASA for mission critical stuff stopped working on the software, NASA can literally throw a couple employees at the problem to keep everything flowing smoothly. If NASA instead went with a closed-source option, it would be leagues more difficult to work with and fix.

yaythomas profile image
yaythomas • Edited

Claim: No enterprise company uses FOSS

This is one of those favourite bits of corporate propaganda, where between software vendors and consultants somewhere in the 80ies-90ies created this idea of "Enterprise" as an category. Looking at you here, IBM, Oracle & SAP.

As in "Enterprise" is for massive scale, big serious software. Also expensive, because those vendors and consultants gotta get paid the big money, right?

The reality? The web literally, by a massive massive margin, runs on open-source everything - from routers to web-servers to databases. And the scale that these web platforms run on is truly massive, measured in millions and billions.

Compared to even a big "Enterprise", that has maybe a few thousand concurrent users to worry about?

So that entire hobby-horse the anti-FOSS crowd has about "Enterprise" somehow being a marker of quality or scale doesn't stand up to even a minute of scrutiny.