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Advantages of Open Source Software

Motivations for using and developing open source software are mixed, ranging from philosophical and ethical reasons to pure practical issues. In this subsection, some of the most widely proposed practical advantages will be introduced. For a discussion on some of the ethical issues (which is not covered in this document), refer to [25].

Usually, the first perceived advantage of open source models is the fact that open source software is made available gratis or at a low cost. But this characteristic is not exclusive to open source software, and several proprietary software products are made available in similar ways (a prominent case could be Microsoft's Internet Explorer). What really distinguishes open source software from software available without fee is the combination of effects due to the characteristics discussed in section 3.1. All of them combined produce a synergistic impact which is the cause of the real advantages of the open source model. Let us provide some more detail on how do these characteristics turn into advantages:


The issue about non-exclusive rights on the software, which has just being mentioned, deserves some more attention. When no one holds exclusive rights on a given code (sometimes mentioned as ``life or death rights''), several traditional problems of the proprietary software model can be overcome:


Perceived disadvantages of open source models

Of course, open source development models lead also to the perception of some disadvantages. However, some of them are only disadvantages if we are stick to classical (proprietary) development models, which is of course not the case with open source. Let us review some of them:


It is extremely important to `see' through the various interpretations of the advantages and disadvantages of open source, and if possible try to analyze with quantitative methods if open source can be helpful in a given situation, or for a given user or company. From a developer point of view, a good example of the perils of launching an open source project is the Mozilla project (launched by Netscape in 1998), considered by some people a complete failure because it took more than an year to get a first beta out. On the contrary, other people perceive, with respect to the same project, that the open source community was capable of producing a totally new code base (larger than the Linux kernel) starting with only some new infrastructure. In fact, now half of the developers of Mozilla work outside of Netscape, and the Mozilla browser has begun to be embedded in many innovative devices, thanks to its modularity and flexibility (for a detailed discussion on the evolution and results of the Mozilla project, read [6]).


Cooperation and competition

If the characteristics of open source development models were to be defined by a unique expression, `cooperation and competition' would probably be the one to choose. Indeed, the combination of both mechanisms is visible in almost any open source project, not to mention when we look at the big picture, where every project and company is in some sense competing with others for resources and `market acceptance', while collaborating with the reuse of the same code base. Let us provide some detail on how those mechanisms work, and enforce each other in a very productive mixture.


Usually, this mixture of competition and collaboration is not intentional, but the product of the development model, and of the licenses used in open source projects. In short, everybody is forced to compete by exposing the tools (the source code) they are using, and improvements are quick to spread through the competing projects, in a manner quite different to the traditional software industry. Competition and collaboration are probably the ultimate cause of the high efficiency (in terms of quality and quantity of software produced with a given set of resources) which open source projects reach.



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