Common Misconceptions About Open Source
Many people who aren’t familiar with Open Source hold certain misconceptions about it, and some may look on it as less legitimate than commercial software. Here are a few common myths and misconceptions about Open Source software—and the truth behind them.
Myth: Open Source software isn’t created by professionals.
Fact: Open Source software is written by professional programmers, many of whom work for proprietary software companies. And it’s all perfectly legal, even encouraged by the companies.
There’s a common misconception that Open Source programmers are pajama-wearing amateurs and students working out of dorm rooms. In fact, many programmers work on Open Source projects as part of their jobs. Many proprietary companies depend on Open Source software for part of their operations—it’s very cost-effective—and have their own programmers customize the software to fit company needs. Open Source licensing agreements require these company programmers to make their modifications available to the Open Source community.
In addition, professional programmers from many different companies sometimes come together to create solutions to problems through Open Source. Apache, for example, was created by a community of professional network administrators and programmers who had a need for web server software that was reliable and affordable.
Some Open Source programmers are motivated by monetary gain. As a programmer, if you write an Open Source program, the code is available to all. But if a big company or organization wants you to modify your program for their use, you can charge them to do it. Many programmers write Open Source code and then hire themselves out to organizations for customization.
Myth: Open Source is a brand-new, untested method of software development.
Fact: Open Source has been around since the beginning of computers themselves.
It’s not uncommon for Open Source to be perceived as a new, unproven Web 2.0 trend. Actually, Open Source was the default programming method as far back as the 1960’s. Programmers, students and professors at places like Stanford, MIT and Berkeley all shared their coding ideas freely. Without it, computing as we know it might not exist today.
Myth: Open Source software doesn’t adhere to the same standards as commercial software.
Fact: Open Source software is often held to the same stringent industry standards that commercial software companies are required to uphold.
Our core spatial engine, MapServer, is based on Open Source technology originally developed by NASA—and it’s a perfect example of Open Source software following industry standards. MapServer is designed to support Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards. The OGC is an international consensus organization that designs and recommends worldwide standards for GIS data processing, data exchange, and geospatial services. Participation is voluntary, so not every commercial GIS program adheres to the standards—but ours does.
Myth: Open Source software is substandard compared to proprietary software.
Fact: Because there are so many people making improvements to the code, Open Source software packages are often more secure and robust than proprietary software. Hundreds of professional programmers critique the code, test it for flaws, and take steps to improve it. At proprietary companies, the software isn’t seen and tested by so many different programmers.
There’s a misconception out there that Open Source is a “fake” or “toy” version of a real, proprietary software package—and that it doesn’t contain all the features and functionality that commercial software has. However, it’s not uncommon for Open Source software to have more options and better functionality than commercial software—simply because dozens or even hundreds of programmers modify popular Open Source programs for their own companies’ use, and then make those modifications available to everyone.