Open Source is a long debated topic with lots of misconceptions. As a software engineer with years of experience, I have had the chance to experience both of them, form a clear picture and polish it along the way.
With these top 5 myths I’m probably just scratching the surface of the Open Source debate, but these are the most common and strongest points I’ve heard and read about in the last 4 years.
#1 Open Source is Free
This is the biggest misconception people have. Open Source refers to the “freedom” of accessing the source code of a project and was born as a movement after a decade of sharing code between developers for learning purposes.
Freedom of distributing and free access to the source code, made Open Source software very easy to just copy and further use, apparently free of charge. Very few people understand the legal implications of the Open Source licenses. Thinking that Open Source means free, some never check the license at all and use the software violating the licensing conditions and infringing copyright.
With over 1400 different types of licenses for Open Source software, it can be very difficult to understand how to manage Open Source code inside a closed-source or even commercial projects.
So, before going further with your project, think about the Open Source software you are using. What do you know about its licensing?
#2 Open Source is better maintained
In Open Source software you can sometimes contribute to its source code. However, there are some Open Source projects that do not accept public contributions unless some copyright terms are signed.
Even though there are usually so many contributors to an Open Source project, there is only a handful of maintainers and core developers. With many contributions, there is a lot of pressure on them to get it right, especially when most contributions are just meant to fix a bug someone found and the big picture of the software is usually ignored (code consistency, readability, overall quality and performance).
In my opinion, more contributors doesn’t mean better maintained. Mainly because these contributions are not focused on a single purpose: that Open Source software. Therefore, a fix somewhere can very easily mean a new bug somewhere else.
#3 It’s all about the community
The community is usually an important factor in choosing an Open Source project. Usually communities form due to the fact that developers use the same software. They are a good resource for those looking to learn how to code.
However if you’re looking for something stable to use in your product, keep in mind that people (even maintainers and core developers) come and go as their needs and projects they are working on change.
A great community today doesn’t mean a great community tomorrow. A software that is maintained by some top engineers today may be maintained only by a young community tomorrow.
Again, having a big community also means that the Open Source software is used in different types of projects which leads us back to myth #2.
#4 Open Source lacks support
Since Open Source is confused with free software most of the time, people think that Open Source lacks support. That’s so wrong! Very often the Open Source concept is used only as a marketing tactic to reach more users and get more visibility, giving the software away free of cost. This myth ignores the fact that in most cases you can get support if you need it and if you are willing to pay for this service.
The whole movement to encourage Open Source projects in fact helps them get more people demanding support and paying for it. And for this reasons, Open Source projects usually have their support systems at least as developed as any other proprietary software, so clearly this myth is busted.
#5 Open Source is enterprise-grade
“Open Source must be great because even big companies use it.”. I’m hearing this very often, it has some truth in it, but it also has another side people are usually not seeing.
In most of the cases, no big company would rely their business on a Open Source project if it’s not made or at least maintained by them. The thing is that the software is therefore made with certain specifications and requirements needed by the company and will evolve in a specific direction. The software is optimized for a certain purpose and there’s never a “one size fits all”.
Unless your software product has similar requirements and needs as those of the company who uses a specific Open Source software then this myth is busted.
What about Froala WYSIWYG HTML Editor?
We’ve been working on the Froala WYSIWYG HTML Editor for more than 3 and a half years and during this period we had lots of thoughts running through our heads. We even thought about the Open Source concept, and the truth is that we thought about making it Open Source and offer commercial support, but we believe that growing a product based on the misconception people have that Open Source is free software is something wrong.
Bottom line is that Open Source is very good for learning, but unfortunately the multitude of licenses, legal implications and aggressive marketing for rapid growth had a negative impact on it.