Open-Source vs. Closed-Source Software, what’s Best for You?

We are living in an age of technology and automation where software products have become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. The software can be divided into many types, but the two main categories remain open-source and closed-source.

This article will compare two types of software based on development, support, flexibility, cost, and cybersecurity.

Before the comparison, let’s first build an understanding of what open and closed-source software are.

Open-Source Software

In open-source software, the source code is available to every user. Users can read, copy, delete, or modify the code or parts of it. Users can also use a portion or all of the code to make a program of their own. The Android operating system is a prime example of open-source software.

Closed-Source Software

Closed-source software is the exact opposite of that. The source code of this type of software is encrypted and out of the access of common users. The user is unable to delete, edit, modify, or otherwise change the code. If they do it, it can have implications ranging from voiding warranty to legal complications. An example of this is the iPhone’s iOS.

If you want to decide which one would be the best for you, here is a comparison of various aspects of both, and at the end we’ll conclude the discussion, suggesting which one you should use.

Development

A designated team of developers develops closed source software. This team is responsible for developing, securing, and providing support for closed-source software. It is the team’s discretion to continue updating and providing support for the software or not.

Open-source software is developed and released by a team and is open to improvement and updates through ‘mass collaboration.’ Anyone can add features or update the software, and these improvements keep coming as long as the community is active.

If we compare open-source and closed-source software with the development point of view, open source has an edge. The updates, improvements, and support for closed-source software will end when the team decides to pull the plug on the project. In the case of open-source, you can keep getting updates for a longer time. Even if the community is no longer contributing, you can get the services of a developer or improve the software on your own.

Security

The security aspect is the most debatable one among closed-source software. As you do not have access to the source code, you cannot determine how secure closed-source software is. There can be flaws in the security of the software that the developers might have overlooked. In extreme cases, if the software is not from a reputable source, it can have intentional features to compromise your security. The security of closed-source software is only as good as the reputation of the team behind it.

Open-source software has its problems related to security. Anyone who can contribute to the code means that anyone with bad intentions can rig the code with unsafe components. However, if someone does this, other community members can quickly identify such abuse, and the issue can be rectified.

In short, the security aspect looks like this: closed source is only as secure as the reputation of the company developing it, and open source’s security depends on how active the community surrounding it is. However, the solution to the security shortcomings of open-source software is SCA Tools. You can use these to ensure that the code does not contain anything that can be a potential security threat.

Support

Like any commercial product, closed-source software comes with complimentary support. If you face any issue, you can contact the support team via call or email, and they will respond and fix the problem for you.

In the case of open-source security, there is no official or dedicated support team if you encounter any problems. However, that does not mean you cannot get support. Popular open-source software typically has thriving communities and forums where you can discuss your problems with fellow software users.

Regarding support, closed-source software has an advantage. There is a well-built structure, and dedicated support teams are there to provide you with all the support you might need during the use of the software.

Flexibility

Closed-source software is only as flexible as the developers have made it to be. You cannot change the core functions as they are limited to what was programmed by the developers. The only flexibility in this kind of software is on the front-end in the form of customization and personalization. iOS, for example, lets you change the wallpaper and home screen layout, but you cannot modify it to use on devices other than the iPhone.

If you try to change the core functions, it can void the warranty of the software product or even have legal implications.

Open-source software, on the other hand, is built around the idea of flexibility. Having access to the source code lets you modify and even add functions to the software. Android, for example, offers users to make custom versions of it for different devices and modify functions as much as they need.

Flexibility is an area where closed-source is way behind open source. Open source is way more flexible and scalable as compared to closed-source.

Cost

Closed-source software can follow many pricing models, but the most common ones are subscription and upfront cost. This cost gives you a limited set of rights on the software. You can use it only according to the end-user licensing agreement (EULA). Having paid for the software does not mean you can get access to the source code.

Open-source software does not have any direct costs associated with it. The software itself is free, but if you want additional features or support from third-party developers, you’ll need to pay for that.

Considering the cost, open-source makes economic sense if you have a large-scale application, and closed-source is better for limited or personal use.

Which one is the Best for You?

If you are looking for something flexible, scalable, and cost-effective, open-source is the way to go. If you have a particular use case and do not want to get involved with how the software works at the backend, you’ll be better off with closed-source.

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Donald Korinchak, MBA, PMP, CISSP, CASP, ITILv3

Donald Korinchak is a Cybersecurity Professional in the Washington DC area. Donald holds an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business. Donald is considered a thought leader in business, leadership, and cybersecurity issues.

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