Long-Term Risks of Choosing Open Source Software

8 April 2021

Fake open source solutions are everywhere and they look ‘robust.’ Learn how to evaluate your project choices to pick the right software for your needs.  

Open source has revolutionized how we develop software. Gone are the days when proprietary software providers such as IBM and Oracle dominated the tech scene. Today, the majority of developers opt for open-source platforms.

Indeed, the open-source services market alone is valued at just under $30 billion. The broader open-source market is likely worth hundreds of billions of dollars. And it’s no surprise that GitHub alone has over 40 million contributors.    

Critically Assessing the Value of Open Source: Risk, Benefits, and Implications

Before talking about how to evaluate open-source software for your project, let’s first focus on the strengths and drawbacks.

What are the Common Benefits of Open Source Software?

benefits of open-source software

The open-source development is flexible and agile. Open-source once-and-for-all solved the problem of getting stuck. Now instead of waiting for the vendor, you can customize and change the software for your needs.  

Speed is another crucial benefit of open-source development. 

No more expensive delay while waiting for the particular solutions from the vendor. Open-source platforms allow you to take the community versions and use them. 

And since a community with a shared vision creates the software, their ideas and solutions are always community-driven. It makes all the solutions a point on.

Developers also love the cost-effectiveness of open-source. Open source solutions are much more affordable. Developers can start a small project and then scale up in line with their budget.

You can enjoy many other benefits, including excellent information security, access to talent, and shared maintenance costs.

For example, one client asked NIX to create a Meeting Room Booking App on both iOS and Android platforms. The major goal was to synchronize all the platforms. Another goal was to create a custom design that would be one-size-fits-all and to make it quick. Flutter open-source SDK app was a solution for fast app creation from the only code base. 

However, open-source also has its share of risks. 

Open Source Software Risks

Licenses, security vulnerabilities, and potential infringement issues are especially major corners. 

Not knowing your obligations as a developer under the OSS license can lead to loss of money or intellectual property. You may also unknowingly use out-of-date, unpatched, or unmaintained OSS, resulting in costly consequences.

But, the biggest challenge is knowing whether you’re using the right platform. Since open-source is so popular, hackers and criminals have made it a habit to build copy-cat or knock-off applications to trap developers and cash in using various methods.

Google has several lists of the “top x fake open source projects.” You may also have come across the “open vs. fauxpen” debates. 

These campaigns attempt to warn developers about fake or inauthentic open-source projects and applications. You could lose all your work if you fall into one of the deep fake traps.

How to Evaluate Your Open Source Choices

what open-source software is usually used for

The only way to avoid the fauxpen trap is to evaluate your options before settling on an open-source development platform.

Here are a few steps to help you identify real from fake OSS projects;

  •  Interrogate the intellectual property ownership

Every worthy OSS project must pass the intellectual property ownership test. A reputable open-source foundation must own good examples of well-known open-source foundations such as ASF and LF. These organizations typically own the copyright. There are also trademarks for the projects they endorse. This way, you can rest assured there are no question marks around the project.

If you come across OSS projects you like but lack confidence in their backers, you must conduct a background check. Find out the real owners of the copyright before using the platform and assess the potential risks.

  • Review the OSS license 

License and copyright aren’t the same. Copyright is the legal term used to declare and prove the owner of intellectual property. The property’s license is the legal term that describes how people can use the copyrighted material. An open-source software license essentially grants the copyright owner privilege to change and redistribute the software.

The rights holders can distribute software under multiple licenses or even change it to a non-open-source license.

The result? You risk losing lots of money and perhaps even the software too. Therefore, only work with projects licensed under an OSI-approved license list. 

  • Scrutinize the governance structure 

A project’s governing structure refers to the rules and customs on who can do what, how, and when on the platform. Think of it as the rules, written or unwritten, that define the roles, duties, privileges, and authorities associated with different project functions. 

For instance, the governance structure determines who can make requests, vote for candidate release, and define a project roadmap.

Choose a project with a friendly and reliable point of contact. Ideally, your developers should have a say in the project’s direction. Otherwise, you’re trusting someone else to decide everything on your behalf.

  • Determine its usability and longevity

Just because the owners call it open-source doesn’t mean it is. Some software applications are released under the OSS license but operate behind closed infrastructure. 

For instance, the chat features, mailing lists, and forums are unavailable to the other users.

A key consideration is whether the developers can ask questions on the project chat and get answers from other team members. 

Can they run the latest tests and get results without an in-between? It often seems a trivial matter until you lose an entire project and investment.

  • Assess the Community culture

Ideally, you wouldn’t check whether an open-source project is community-driven–because that’s what ‘open-source’ means. But some ‘open-source’ projects may not be open after all.

We suggest the following steps for evaluating the community;

  1. Determine the size of the community working on the project.
  2.  Find the number of active developers (committers) taking part in the project.
  3. Check the users who have subscribed to the forum. 
  4. Read a few questions/answers exchanged in the last 30 days. 

The higher the number, the better.

Rise to the Challenge

We’ve seen developers lose tens of thousands of dollars invested in fake open-source projects. 

Don’t fall prey to such. Before you pick your next open-source project, thoroughly assess it to make sure it’s the right fit. Nix Solutions is always waiting to help.