Security and quality top companies' reasons for using open source

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Why should you use open source software? The fact that it’s usually free can be an attractive selling point, but that’s not the reason most companies choose to use it. Instead, security and quality are the most commonly cited reasons, according to new research.

In fact, a full 72 percent of respondents to the eighth annual Future of Open Source Survey said that they use open source because it provides stronger security than proprietary software does. A full 80 percent reported choosing open source because of its quality over proprietary alternatives.

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Surprisingly, the fact that it's often free is not the main reason most businesses choose open source software.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that open source helped improve efficiency and lower costs, while 55 percent also indicated that the software helped create new products and services. A full 50 percent of respondents reported openly contributing to and adopting open source.

Results of the survey, conducted by Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners, were released Thursday and paint an even rosier picture for open source than did last year’s results. A record-breaking 1,240 industry influencers took part in this year’s survey, answering questions about open source trends, opportunities, adoption drivers, community engagement, and the business problems open source solves.

“We are witnessing a sea change in the way enterprises organize their infrastructure, throwing out proprietary brands in favor of highly efficient and cost-effective open platforms,” said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and Canonical, which participated in the survey.

A competitive advantage for small firms

I had a chance earlier this week to speak with Lou Shipley, Black Duck’s CEO, along with Michael Skok, general partner at North Bridge, about what the results mean for those in SMBs.

Smaller companies are “driven by cost, like everybody,” Shipley told me. “The use of open source lets you drive your costs down. It also helps you to recruit the best employees.”

Organizations must understand that “it’s about more than just cost-cutting or any of the traditional reasons to use open source software; it’s about participating and managing the logistical challenges to gain competitive advantage, attract top talent and influence project direction.”

Overall, “small firms can have a competitive advantage by standardizing on open source,” he said.

’Stand on the shoulders of giants’

Indeed, “for small to medium-sized businesses, the last thing you can afford to do is build up a large IT department,” North Bridge’s Skok said. “A much better plan is to use the available open source software to run your business and then customize it as appropriate for your needs.

“The beauty of the open source world is you get both: low cost and and the ability to expand with your own customization and differentiation,” he added.

As the end of Windows XP approaches, meanwhile, small business should “think about the advantage you have” over larger enterprises, Shipley concluded, and consider trying an option like Ubuntu or another Linux instead.

“The risk is a lot less,” he concluded. “You can stand on the shoulders of giants rather than having to reinvent the wheel yourself.”

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