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4 reasons companies say yes to open source

Howard Baldwin | Jan. 7, 2014
Open source isn't just about saving money; enterprises are adopting it to applications faster, with higher quality components.

Open source improves quality
Open source fans have long contended that the methodology produces better software. Their reasoning: If code is flawed, the developer community can identify and address the problem quickly, where a single coder might plod on unawares, at least for a while.

There is a consequential benefit [to open source] from both a reliability and a financial perspective. Peter Richards, managing director of global banking,Bank of America

That quality appeals to Bank of America. "We have a broader range of choice when it comes to high-quality software," says Peter Richards, the bank's managing director of global banking in New York. "There is a consequential benefit from both a reliability and a financial perspective."

The bank integrates open-source components into custom-developed applications on a regular basis, Richards says — but only after they're certified. "We go through a process of ensuring that they're appropriate for use within the bank's development environment," he says.

Asked if it's surprising for such a large company to use open source, Richards cites Linux's path to widespread acceptance in commercial organizations. In the beginning, he explains, enterprises worried that Linux was a hobbyist's operating system, not one that a big corporation could depend on. But over the years, "the number of people who support Linux through peer review have made it into one of the better operating systems for corporations," Richards says.

"The quality of open-source code for development comes because of the number of people who are able to contribute, review and test it," he asserts. "That means it's a solid piece of code." That development structure also ties back into cost: "If you had to pay for that yourself, you'd end up with enormous costs because you'd have to do testing and code review yourself," Richards adds. "That's one of [open source's] big advantages: quality at a reasonable cost."

Open source delivers business agility
Not to be confused with agile development, business agility is the ability to react to marketplace demands quickly. Open source provides this to developers and businesses alike by speeding up the pace of software development.

Ron Pitt, the developer who worked with Development Is Child's Play's Wiss, is a partner with software consultancy LevelHead Solutions in Poway, Calif. If he needs new code for a project, he downloads it in minutes rather than developing it himself. "Sure, some of it's buggy, but I'd rather spend 15 minutes debugging it than writing it from scratch in 15 hours," Pitt says.

Businesses likewise benefit from open source's ability to let them react quickly. For one thing, companies that use open software code aren't tied to vendors' timelines for commercial application upgrades. "If you have to wait for vendors to make the changes you want, it affects the pace at which your company can innovate," says Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Ottawa-based Eclipse, an open-source community for individuals and organizations focused on tools originally launched by IBM for Java.


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