Debunking the top open source myths

Many IT executives choose open source over proprietary software, but some remain skeptical.

Today many IT executives choose open source over proprietary software for everything from cloud computing to facilitating teamwork among remote workers. Open source increases security and privacy, encourages an engaged community and offers the ability to "look under the hood" to diagnose and resolve issues quickly.

Gartner predicts that by 2016 99% of Global 2000 enterprises will use open source in mission-critical software. As analyst Andrea Di Maio noted in a recent blog, open source is even becoming increasingly popular with governments as they look for new methods to reduce spending and increase efficiency.

But some organizations are still skeptical, and most of their concerns stem from long held misconceptions. Here we debunk the three major open source myths:

* Open source myth #1: Open source isn't secure. Before the digital business era, the ability to personally interact with a brand led to an implied trust. But, as more of your customers', employees' and partners' sensitive data is stored outside your control, the need to verify the security measures offered by vendors is becoming paramount. Open source code's transparency offers security validation for end-users, instilling a sense of trust that proprietary software cannot offer.

It's this very reason that governments, such as the Republic of Peru, are adopting "open source first" policies. The U.K.'s recent decision to mandate its agencies' office suites support Open Document Format (ODF) is another manifestation of this trend, and the U.S. General Services Administration's recent policy to prioritize open source software in all new and developing IT projects.

* Open source myth #2: Too many cooks in the kitchen. The open source community is the strongest and most well known asset for pushing open source forward and supporting its success. After all, the origin of open source lies in the rich collective of developers who began sharing source code to build on existing software and networks. In enterprise IT, however, some managers fear that the potential for too many options may lead to a lack of direction and waste of resources on open source investments. Proprietary software claims to offer a route that is defined and clear, albeit limited.

The open source community of contributors gives open source projects the support needed for complex integrations with leading technologies in every industry, the insight to identify and patch security components, and the creative potential to aim for extensive goals and uncharted roadmaps. For example, when the Heartbleed bug was uncovered, open source projects addressed it more aggressively than any other group or organization.

* Open source myth #3: Unclear business value. Open source can complement and extend proprietary offerings, such as service and support options, dual licensing agreements and hardware integrations. As a result, businesses can harness the innovative power of the open source community while using its insights to drive revenue for its own content. A great example is the ability to build custom modules on top of collaboration software that can integrate into industry specific software, like customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

The incentive to be more open pays off in all aspects of business, from customer relationships to new technologies. Embarking on open source initiatives sends a strong message about your organization's commitment to this plan. An open source project will flourish with strong input, active collaboration and boundless creative thinking at its core, and its results can yield market success in ways a proprietary software route is unable to touch.

While some people remain in the past and balk at the unknown qualities of an open source initiative, it won't be long before the vast majority of governments and enterprises alike view them as a standard element of business-critical applications and systems.

Rob Howard is the chief technology officer of  Zimbra. Telligent, the company that Howard founded in 2004, acquired Zimbra from VMware in July 2013, and the two businesses merged to form Zimbra, Inc., a provider of unified collaboration and community software. With more than 15 years of experience in the technology sector, Howard is known throughout the industry as an authority in community and collaboration software. Follow him on Twitter at @robhoward.

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