In the late 1990s, Linus Torvald launched Linux as a way to democratize source code. Shortly thereafter, other companies released their own source code, and from there, the radical notion of sharing your software for all the world to use took off like wildfire.
The actual term “open source software” (OSS), was coined later in the decade at a conference in Palo Alto, California. There, advocates worked together to create a strategy for continuing this new model of software innovation. The group introduced the term “open source” in an effort to move away from the negative implications of the term “free software” and to set a more inclusive tone. Shortly after, its followers began to grow exponentially.
Today, according to Forrester, more than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies use open source software (OSS) for their development projects. As it was from the beginning, the appeal is the community nature of the software. People like to belong to a community, and developers are no exception. OSS allows them to work on projects they’re most interested in and put their talents in the spotlight for all to see, appreciate and benefit from.
As programming code created by software developers and offered publicly to anyone who wants to modify and build upon it, OSS has one clear rule of the road. If you use it to build a product, you must pay it forward by offering that product as open source as well.
Yet, while most people believe OSS is always free, that’s no longer always the case. Many forms of OSS, such as MySQL, require you to purchase a license, which includes upgrades and support. For some forms of OSS, a purchasing a license is not required, but if you require support from the developer, then you need to pay a fee for support services. And, most often, fees paid to OSS developers are only used to improve the code base.
Part of the appeal of OSS is that it’s everywhere – many of the websites and devices you use daily are built upon open source. It’s used by Meta (formerly Facebook) via MySQL. Android is based upon the open source programming language Java, so there’s a good chance your phone is built upon OSS. In addition, many of the popular video games nowadays are built using Python, another open source programming language. But the ubiquity of OSS isn’t just in the consumer world; leading business applications are built upon open source, and the apps just continue to get better as more innovators apply their craft to improving them continuously.
Open Source Software in the Finance and Payments Industries
Within finance and payments markets, which are competing for a greater share of customers, open source software offers an affordable way to build scalable solutions that provide their customers with greater flexibility and options. Mobile apps allow customers to conduct banking transactions whenever and wherever they choose. It also allows retailers to provide all of the popular payment platforms that their customers are accustomed to. These applications can be customized to meet the unique needs of particular companies… and all can be built using the same open source code.
Why Consider OSS Today
The attraction of OSS is nothing new, and we will continue to see its incredible growth in the coming years for three key reasons: financial uncertainty, rising cybersecurity challenges and a tech talent shortage.
There are signs that the U.S. and many other countries are on a steady path to a recession due to rising inflation, the war in Ukraine and other factors. Companies are looking for ways to tighten their belts and leveraging (mostly) free source code is a way to keep digital transformation on track in the most cost-effective manner possible.
Why OSS Can Be More Secure Than Proprietary Software
As mentioned earlier, cybersecurity threats continue to plague companies everywhere. Take, for example, the recent SolarWinds cyber attack. Last year, the company made a routine software update to its network management system that was pushed out to its customers. Hackers believed to be directed by a Russian intelligence service slipped malicious code into the software and used it as a vehicle for a massive cyberattack against America.
OSS software, which is completely transparent and visible to everyone, can provide a greater level of security because so many people can view it and identify anomalies. In fact, according to an article in Digitalogy, Linus Torvalds said, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” This means that the more people look at code and test it, the greater the probability of finding problems and uncovering suspicious business.
Additionally, open source fulfills a great need at a time when software engineers and other tech talent is at a minimum. A 2021-2023 Emerging Technology Roadmap report from Gartner Inc. noted that 64% of IT executives had cited talent shortages as the most significant barrier to adopting emerging technology. Companies are able to get a leg up on software development when they use existing source code and customize it to meet their unique needs.
The Challenges of Open Source
Despite its appeal, there are many developers who are not into it quite yet, but that too will change. For software developers looking to reach their professional goals, having OSS contributions listed on GitHub certainly puts them to the top of the candidate list, and it’s fast becoming essential to any good resume.
OSS, however, is not the answer to every company’s software development needs. Due to the competitive nature of business, OSS will never supplant proprietary systems. Additionally, for many companies, the software they have now works well and is scalable.
Another issue is that typically, software developers love to write code, but hate to write documentation. OSS detractors complain about the dearth of documentation for open source software. A lack of documentation increases the time it takes to understand and implement the source code.
Despite these challenges and others, Red Hat’s 2022 State of Enterprise Open Source report found that 77 percent of IT leaders have a more positive perception of enterprise open source than they did a year ago, and 82 percent of them are more likely to select a vendor that contributes to open source.
From its early roots, OSS has embraced collaboration and innovation and can be the answer to the finance and payments industries’ quest for secure and reliable software that helps them compete in a complex and competitive marketplace.