Many people have some basic assumptions about proprietary, paid software developed by corporations. They think it's the standard; superior to lesser-known alternatives. They think this because they believe that paying to use an app generally gives small businesses or individuals access to better customer support, better security features, and an overall better product.

These assumptions are often not correct at all. In fact, they can be so off the mark that they hold many businesses back from tech solutions that might serve them far better. There are some serious flaws to big-time proprietary apps, and the more you know, the more strategic you can be with the software you choose to use.

Consider, for example, the level of security and support with proprietary apps. With corporate software, the level of code quality transparency is zero (hence the "black box" nickname corporate software is often given), making it very difficult for anyone not privy to trade secrets to evaluate a product for security or efficiency. In these situations the only people with access to that code are the very same people whose livelihoods are contingent on moving units. They may go to great lengths to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience, so there's no crowdsourced benefit of the "hive-mind." Also, if the team misses something potentially damaging to users, it might not be discovered or fixed for years.

Support for "black box" software is often limited to the offerings of proprietary customer service centers. And we all know how "helpful" and "knowledgeable" customer service agents representing large corporations can be. If you experience a malfunction, and the service desk is closed, or you're awaiting an email response, you're going to be waiting a while. There is often no community ready to respond to your curiosity, challenge, or customization request.

Yes, there is a better way. There are stacks and stacks of open source app options that avoid these pitfalls while offering sophisticated, useful, secure, and well-supported tools available, for free.

The Business Case for Open Source

Still under the erroneous assumption that open source is only appealing to the cost-conscious who are willing to trade security for economy? Nothing could be further from the truth. Open source apps make a lot of business sense today.

Even the "biggies" agree. Microsoft, loved by many as the king of proprietary software, is participating in open source communities. Facebook's Hack, a programming language, has been released and opened up to the open source community for de-bugging, improvements and customization. Google, Amazon, Cisco, and Dell each pledged $100,000 per year over the next three years to an organization called the Core Infrastructure Initiative, with the goal of giving a boost to underfunded open source projects. If the heavy hitters are happy to rely on the freely available and transparent work of others in order to build brand loyalty, shouldn't you?

"There's a multitude of reasons that going open source is a sound business decision," says David Semerad CEO of STRV. "Since high-quality, open source options are readily available, there is absolutely no need to compromise on functionality or user experience. Today, with open source options, you get to have your cake and eat it, too."

Here are four especially compelling reasons why open source software makes the most sense for independent businesses.

1. Open Source Means Better Security

What? Enhanced security with open source? What about Heartbleed? Isn't open source the culprit in most major security breaches? No. Despite the long-held myth that open source is inherently not safe because of less vendor accountability, the truth is open source apps are among the most secure on the market.

Keep in mind that there is more than one open source model. As the opposing force to the traditional proprietary model, whereby the software vendor is solely responsible for security, there's the "pure" open source model, where the development community as a whole is accountable for security. Lately, though, a hybrid model has emerged: the commercial open source model. This provides a mix of vendor accountability and community-driven code transparency that many appreciate.

Commercial open source transparency provides a "trust but verify" method for validating software including adherence to best practices, ensuring effective patches, and minimizing back doors that make software vulnerable. The result is that transparency itself improves code quality.

Invoice Ninja, for example, is an open source option offering formidable security built on 256-bit encryption. Yes, just like its "black box" competitors, this app generates logo-personalized invoices which are payable online. But Invoice Ninja, as opposed to its proprietary cousins, offers full code transparency and actively seeks collaborators interested in improving the platform's performance and security.

2. Open Source Means Better Support

Open source critics say that when there's no vendor to call, app issues can go unaddressed for long periods of time. If there is no one officially in charge to turn to, sneer the naysayers, users can get stuck without support. It's time to clear up this jumble of half-truths.

In reality, open source apps do generally have people or organizations in charge of product management, so the likelihood that there will be someone you can talk to about your problems with an app is comparable to the proprietary software world. Also, when open source apps and libraries are adopted by thousands, ecosystems of independent developers and support technicians arise, which actually makes it easier for users to find help.

Let's say you find a bug. Not only are bugs in open source code likely to be identified quickly, they are also more often than not resolved expeditiously as well. User communities offer each other support on forums, wikis, and mailing lists without asking for anything in return. It's simply part of the collaborative culture.

For example, So Freaking Boring, an app that makes collaboration and project management less boring, is commercially open source and written with Ruby on Rails. Since the Ruby development community is active, dedicated, and incredibly supportive, businesses are empowered to work with this free app with 24/7 support.

3. Open Source Means Increased Competition

Increased competition ultimately positions you, the business user, for success because it motivates vendors to create functional, robust, free or low-cost choices. The more options you have, the better off your business will be. Open source fosters competition on two levels.

First, in order for proprietary programs to maintain market share, they are often forced to improve to stay competitive. For example, Internet Explorer was stagnant for some time until Firefox, the open source browser, entered the game, blowing IE out of the water. Microsoft was forced to improve and enhance IE to keep its user base. Everybody wins.

Second, and perhaps even more compelling, ego-based quality control is a major market force. Because the OSS (open source software) community is intensely competitive, the developers active in it are looking to make big names for themselves. There are scores of developers out there essentially trying to outshine their peers by customizing, innovating, or otherwise improving existing code. They revel in having other programmers admire their work and accomplishments. Again, everybody wins.

4. Open Source Means More Control

Ultimately, the biggest difference between proprietary and open source software comes down to customization abilities. While proprietary software is fully controlled only by its developers, open source is controlled by anyone and everyone. Therefore, using proprietary software is making an active choice to limit your own freedom.

Take, for example, WordPress. Born out of demand for elegant, well-constructed personal publishing, WordPress is one of the most acclaimed, widely adopted and customizable content management systems (CMS) available. It's actually an open source platform that has thousands of plug-ins and developers.

Open source provides the ability for each user to create exactly the experience he or she needs, rather than forcing the user to work within confines that an anonymous proprietary developer thinks we'll pay for. As a result, countless versions of high-quality open source apps are available. The primary reason that so many established enterprises use open source products is their high level of quality options.

Take Control. Go Open Source.

The open source model is the ultimate in secure, collaborative competition. It generates an increasingly diverse scope of design perspectives and results in scalable, sustainable, customizable products.

Gone are the days when cost considerations were the primary motivations to go for open source. Today everyone, including micropreneurs, IT professionals, and small businesses as well as "the big guys," values commercial open source for business continuity, quality, support, and control. In fact, according to a recent, in-depth Ponemon Institute survey, 76 percent of IT professionals agreed that code transparency improves application integrity and trustworthiness.

Open source technology is finally emerging as a dominant force, and in many ways, challenging traditional models put in place by past sellers offering expensive exclusive programs.

It's time. Free yourself, and go open source.

Published on: May 11, 2015