Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Source Software

MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge – Blockchain: Patents And Open Source

Featured In Video:

Sam Abassi, Founder of The BUSHIDO Lab

Christian Wentz, Founder of Gradient Technology

Tom Serres, Founder of Animal Ventures

Keegan M. Caldwell, Managing Member of Caldwell

“Whether they know it or not, consumers do not purchase software, they purchase support for software.” (1.)

According to Frank Wiles, who runs a technical support and consultation firm offering third-party support for businesses using open-source software, in most cases, the initial cost of developing, designing, and coding software programs is relatively easy to re-coup compared to the cost of offering support for that software. The cost of software support is an often-overlooked factor when businesses consider running their infrastructure on open-source software. As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as free”.

Yet, open-source support options still tend to cost significantly less because the community itself offers free help and input and third-party support firms, such as The BUSHIDO Lab, compete with one another for business. As a result, support for open source software tends to mean lower prices but less leverage for the client, or absorbing the responsibility of maintenance in-house.

Comparatively, proprietary support, while in general more expensive, depends directly on the longevity and brand of the underlying software, which can sometimes mean higher expectations for response time, full support down to the drivers, and even indemnity. This is according to two whitepapers from open source support firms advocating open source. (2.) (3.)

(Video Transcript Below)

In blockchain, open and closed-source developers are trying to solve the same problem. PwC’s 2018 Global Blockchain Survey respondents ranked “lack of trust among users” as one of the biggest barriers to blockchain adoption (behind only “regulatory uncertainty”) (4)

The trustworthiness, transparency, and sheer coding prowess of the open-source community is seen by many as essential to bridging the gap to blockchain adoption. Patented-protected, proprietary software, when profitable, has historically shown examples of software solutions that include responsive, enterprise-level, professional support that meets the fast-paced, no-excuses demands of industry, and it remains to be seen if patents will deliver these sorts of scalable, sturdy blockchain solutions.

Some companies favor one direction, and some companies, like IBM, see the two as flip sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, if the technology itself develops to the point where it can be demonstrated, scaled, and guaranteed to function with fidelity inside of regulatory guidelines, then functionality will trump fears. (5)

Video Transcript


I think that all of you guys bring up a great point, that an underlying theme that everyone is addressing, is that, as we think about how we can add value for entrepreneurs listening tonight, it seems, for each company, there’s a handful of decisions that you need to make, based on wherever it is that you are, and the sort of company that you have, and whatever your goals are, you know, weighing all of those things, and then, looking at the marketplace or the industry in which you’re operating, as well, and then considering what the best path is, for you, and so, Sam, I might be curious, just because, because I’m curious, I’d like to hear maybe you talk about, since we’ve touched on the “no help desk” issue of open source, or things like that, maybe you could just weigh in briefly on some of the pros and the cons of utilizing open source from your vantage point, with the sort of service business that you have.


Yeah. I’ll go back to the coin example, it’s just the most recent. Someone else contributed code, and they wanted to help out, but they were actually just trying to steal coin. But, we didn’t figure that out until a bit later, while we vetted his code. So, you get good and bad actors everywhere. I guess the equivalent to the help desk in the open source space would be the forums. One of my engineers fundamentally believes if you don’t know how to code in 15 years, you’re gonna be on food stamps. I wouldn’t go that far, but we are seeing an increased presence of developers, right, like my sister, who, she has a hard time sending an email, she now wants to go to a boot camp to learn javascript, or Ruby on Rails. So, I don’t know if that’s indicative of a more open source community in general. I’m not entirely sure, but, I’ve experienced its utility firsthand. You have to be careful, ’cause again, it’s kind of like they call crypto “the Wild West”, you know. But, it’s the internet, you’re on the internet, so you have to tread cautiously. I think it’s incredibly useful to kind of take the model of this is what I have, iterate, this is what I have, iterate, again and again. Have people, usually you have your users break it, but, you could just have developers break it if you have open source code.


…I’m sorry, one point that brings up, and maybe it comes up later, is mission critical systems and open source tend to be at odds. Like, anything that utilizes open source in a mission critical application, whether it’s, you know, automotive, aerospace, defense, health care, financial, usually you take an open source thing and you clean it all up and you fix all the stuff in your formal methods around it, to the point that the thing at the end is effectively proprietary. It’s not intentionally, it’s just that you need a very clean environment to operate certain types of things. That is one of the challenges that open source faces, and there are a number of defense like DARPA programs right now around trying to make that cleaner, particularly on reusable hardware ultra IP cores, but, it’s just uh, it’s great to see the iterative breaking and bug bounty type things, but how does that work when, if we release something and it doesn’t work, someone dies.


I might throw in one final comment which is, at the end of the day, if you’re building a company, you have to understand what your strategy is, right it’s like there’s a lot of, whether it’s patents or PR. One of the big things that, if you think about it, a lot of people always want to get their startup covered in TechCrunch, right, so it makes them feel good, right. But does it actually do anything for your company? No, generally not.






(5)Interview with Arnaud Le Hors – Senior Technical Staff Member of Web & Blockchain Open Technologies at IBM at Money20/20 Europe 2017 (youtube video)

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