How is open source software good for business?

In the late 1970s, staff programmers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sparked a movement. Little did they know that a jammed printer would lead to the beginning of an era: the free software movement. 

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “free as in freedom, not beer,” this is what it means:

“Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. 

The GNU Project and Free Software Foundation

The WordPress Foundation’s philosophy requires that all projects and software we support be licensed under the GNU Public License, a free, copyleft license—this is intentional. If you mistakenly think open source has no place in business purely because there’s no monetary value attached to the software, we urge you to think again.

The path to innovation and progress

Open source software offers a low-cost entry to the market and paves an efficient way for innovation. These projects harness the power of diverse knowledge, skills, and community to create the best software. But what does this mean for businesses? 

“Companies who wish to create wealth are always interested in productivity. Productivity includes being able to innovate effectively […] Effective innovation is not merely being able to invent and improve, but also being able to determine what to invent and how to improve,” said Richard P. Gabriel and Ron Goldman

Most individuals recognize Apple as an innovative and successful technology company. However, few people outside the developer community may know MacOS X was based on Darwin, an open source project. Many of Apple’s platforms draw inspiration from open source, and plenty of other companies have done the same.

With open source software, organizations have access to the latest updates and bug fixes, thanks to frequent and reliable releases. Put simply, building on that existing work rather than reinventing the wheel puts them on the fastest path to creating a better product for their customers. 

Moreover, business strategies based on open source can level the playing field. Small organizations that rely on open source projects for their products can leverage ubiquity to build brand equity, as Gabriel and Goldman explain. This makes the companies more trustworthy to the customer, allowing them to compete fairly with organizations with extensive resources. There’s also a low risk of the software being discontinued and affecting the business. Even if the original programmers leave the project, the maintenance and development of open source software will go on.

We’re only scratching the surface of how open source software is good for business. The reality is that the work done in open source projects benefits the society at large—they help create a better world through technology. The best way businesses can support that future is by adopting open source technologies and contributing to such projects.