November 05, 2010, 5:22 PM — With the many business and government organizations that now use open source software such as Linux, it's becoming increasingly clear that price is not the only advantage such software holds. If it were, companies that adopted it during the Great Recession would surely have switched back to the expensive proprietary stuff as soon as conditions began to ease, and that's clearly not the case.
Rather, free and open source software (FOSS) holds numerous other compelling advantages for businesses, some of them even more valuable than the software's low price. Need a few examples? Let's start counting.
It's hard to think of a better testament to the superior security of open source software than the recent discovery by Coverity of a number of defects in the Android kernel. What's so encouraging about this discovery, as I noted the other day, is that the only reason it was possible is that the kernel code is open to public view.
Android may not be fully open source, but the example is still a perfect illustration of what's known as "Linus' Law," named for Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. According to that maxim, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." What that means is that the more people who can see and test a set of code, the more likely any flaws will be caught and fixed quickly. It's essentially the polar opposite of the "security through obscurity" argument used so often to justify the use of expensive proprietary products, in other words.
Does the absence of such flaw reports about the code of the iPhone or Windows mean that such products are more secure? Far from it--quite the opposite, you might even say.
All it means is that those products are closed from public view, so no one outside the companies that own them has the faintest clue how many bugs they contain. And there's no way the limited set of developers and testers within those companies can test their products as well as the worldwide community constantly scrutinizing FOSS can.
Bugs in open source software also tend to get fixed immediately, as in the case of the Linux kernel exploit uncovered not long ago.