The Reasons Businesses Use Open Source Are Changing Faster Than You Realize

Open-source software, once used primarily because it was cheap and “good enough,” now gets top ranking for delivering high quality, according to the latest Future of Open Source survey.

While lowering costs remains the top reason companies elect to participate in open-source projects, they now view open source as a way to drive innovation, shorten time to market, and improve the quality of their software.

This is the eighth year that Black Duck Software, a company that offers open-source software and consulting services, has conducted the survey.

The deeper meaning of this year’s survey: For the first time in a long, long time, companies care about source code again.

High Quality For Low Cost? I’m In

Cost has long driven open-source adoption. In 2007, 80% of those surveyed by Gartner cited cost as the primary driver of their open source use. Today, 80% of those surveyed cite the “high quality” of open source as the primary reason for using it, up from the fifth most important consideration in 2011. This has led to more than 50% of enterprises both using and contributing to open-source projects, a massive jump from just a few years ago.

All of this comes down to naked self-interest, of course.

In fact, the second-most-cited reason for engaging with open-source communities was to help enterprises attract and retain top talent. The best developers demand to work on open source. Period. 

And while cost is still important to companies, the way cost savings are realized differs from 10 years ago. Before it was a matter of downloading free stuff. This year the primary reason for participating in open-source communities is to help reduce costs. Not installing the software, but actually getting involved in its creation and maintenance.

That’s a big shift in how the industry thinks about open source. 

Source Code Matters … Finally

Ironically, despite the furor over the years as to the importance of open source code, virtually no one actually availed themselves of the right to look at the source code. Even fewer would modify it. That is changing. 

Back in 2007, I reported that 57% of enterprises liked having source code. Today, source-code access ranks as the fourth most important factor in increased open-source adoption, up from No. 8 in 2013. Organizations now want to be able to view and modify source code. 80% of the survey respondents say they use open source because of the advanced features it already has, and they want to add features, too. They also want to fix problems. 

They want to innovate, in other words, and not on someone else’s schedule. But they also want a strong base. Open source means they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

As Forrester analyst Diego Lo Giudice argues:

Within the modern applications era, regardless of whether new software applications are being developed and delivered for mobile, tablets, or the Web, the truly successful app-dev[elopment] leaders will be those who focus on delivering constant value and incremental improvement to their business.

While source code is important for innovation, it’s also important for the far more mundane task of ensuring security. While source-code access was viewed as a security liability in past Future of Open Source surveys (through 2012), 72% of respondents now cite “many more eyes” on the source code makes it more secure. 

Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange, a maker of productivity tools, highlights the security implications of source-code access:

Security means not having to believe, but knowing. Only products under open-source licensing can shed the light when back doors exist, dishonest data collection and/or data exploitation happens or if the proper algorithms for creating security are chosen.

We’ve Come A Long Way

Open-source software is no longer synonymous with “cheap, good-enough software.” It’s now driving the innovation agenda for the entire industry, offering higher-quality software and more room to shape that software to meet individual needs. That’s good for open source. It’s also good for you.

You can access the full survey results here:

2014 Future of Open Source Survey Results


Black Duck Software

Lead image by Flickr user

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