Open your computer and chances are you have more than a few programs you use daily – Microsoft Office for all your work and communication, Skype for your meetings or maybe Adobe reader to go through PDFs and other organizational documents. These programs are maintained and updated by their respective creators using proprietary software, which is why they’re often known as proprietary or commercial software.
The direct counter to this ideology is open-source software. So what is it, how does it work and why should associations know about it? Let’s dive into it.
Unlike closed source software programs, which are kept protected by their creators, open-source software is open to the public and designed to be enhanced by a community of contributors.
According to Business Insider, “open-source software authors do not view their creations as proprietary and instead release their software under licenses that grant users with the desire and know-how to view, copy, learn, alter, and share its code.”
Common examples of open-source software you may use daily include:
While there is undoubtedly a technical side of open-source software, where programmers are actively tinkering and tooling with source codes, that’s not likely the application for associations. Instead, your organization's access to this software will likely come from a third-party commercial company that provides support.
These organizations provide more refined versions of this software as well. “These products are optimized for use in a corporate environment – they are easy to install, run smoothly and customers receive regular updates, patches, and support,” says Elmar Geese, Chief Operating Officer of Greenbone.
For example, WordPress.org is open-source software that you can use to build and manage your website. However, to host and support said website, you need a third-party commercial company like WordPress.com, GoDaddy or AWS. This is the same relationship your organization will likely have with open-source software.
Open-source software is not a new concept and is used widely today by organizations looking to modify and customize applications and programs based on their needs, which is its biggest benefit. According to IBM, “this philosophy is based on intellectual freedom and core principles: transparency, collaboration, delivery, inclusion, and community.”
For associations, the implications of open-source software could be significant. Having direct access to the software code for key systems opens up a world of flexibility and of course, the free nature of open source projects could reduce a variety of IT and software costs. However, like any innovation, there are benefits and challenges.
When determining whether or not an open-source software solution is right for your organization, it’s good to think of the perks.
Open-source software can also have challenges that make it less appealing to associations, including:
While security is a concern, challenges are avoidable with some best practices. Microsoft recommends inventorying all your open-source software, checking for public vulnerabilities and aligning your IT efforts around quick response times in the event of an attack.
If someone wanted to create a derivative product based on an open-source project, they would need to study the licensing scheme for that project to determine what was allowed and any requirements (such as attribution to the original project). However, this software lives publicly on the web and has dedicated communities that modify and maintain it for free use, which is how the vast majority of users interact with it.
So, what does open-source software have to do with Sidecar’s platform rebuild?
Well, everything. As we mentioned in the principles of our rebuild, our design is based on the idea of openness and flexibility. Not only do we want to have complete ownership of our data, but also we want to be able to adjust our platform based on the needs of our members, which means our design and process are similar to the foundations of open-source software. Additionally, when we’re done designing, we also plan on releasing our IP (the platform we build) as open-source software in partnership with MemberJunction, a Blue Cypress family company. That means you’ll be able to download it and customize it for your association and organizational applications.
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Jose Triana joined the Sidecar team as the Content Manager in 2021. He is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.
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