Open VS Closed Source for Startups

Amoo's thoughts on this perennial debate can be summarised as follows: it depends on the nature and scale of your business project. It is also possible to consider open-source as a strategy not a product.

Without a shadow of a doubt, many computer scientists and code monkeys prefer to work with open source platforms. Some reasons cited are increased security, lower cost, better performance, and that one is able access and modify the source code which provides greater flexibility to further customize the software to match individual needs.

Many corporations prefer to deal with proprietary i.e. closed source and will happily give up significant cost savings in order to gain the peace of mind that another legal entity i.e. software vendor can be held culpable if things go belly up. Being locked-in to these vendors is sometimes seen as signing up to a club, and in business one has to be in the right club. Other arguments against open source are lack of business knowledge, and that anything good is worth paying for.

Some numbers? Today, under 5% of operating systems installed on pcs and laptops are open source while over 50% of operating systems on mobile devices are. On the web, nearly 55% of servers are open-source platforms. What does this mean to you? In a nutshell, as tempting as it is to call a hung jury, my advice to startups is simple. If cost is a deciding factor you can find free, almost free, or open source software to launch with. You will need techies on your side to manage this option. If you have been through Series A funding and want an out-of-the-box solution, proprietary would probably suit you better.

Some questions Tara Spalding, a respected industry professional on this subject, suggests you ask are:

1. is your in house talent/ staff experience and problem solving manners biased towards an open source solution or a proprietary solution? (developer centric vs. deployment centric)
2. is your company’s business model stable or evolving in this economy? Would the supportive software fit with the flexibility your company needs – or is this a low risk?
3. what are the expectations that your customers have? are they tolerant of open source or is there a learning curve to understand and accept open source?

In either case, do your research and avoid getting caught up in the emotive/ethical/social discussions around this point. Remember, you are trying to build a business not start a social movement or political party.