Open Source Software Vs Proprietary Software? Tips For Technology Integration

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Open Source Software Vs Proprietary Software? Tips For Technology Integration
By Sophia Peters

Is open source the right option for your online training, teaching, or learning efforts? This articles compares the difference between open source and proprietary software. Open source software has become mainstream. Applications such as the Firefox Web browser and Linux operating system are available to aid in all areas of operation, including teaching and learning. Open source software has become a strong contender in online training and e-learning sectors. As technology continues to evolve, more open source offerings will continue to emerge in the area of e-learning, continuously changing the landscape of online teaching and learning both in academia and business fields.

Open source software has grown to include:

  1. Learning management systems (LMS)
  2. Learning content management systems (LCMS)
  3. Course authoring tools
  4. Tools to create media elements such as animations, audio, and video
  5. Browsers and players to present content
  6. Courseware libraries
These resources has some important benefits:

  1. Open source software is free to download therefore lower in cost.
  2. Flexibility and customizability
  3. Extensive active builder and user communities that forms a good technical support base.
  4. Many open source applications run on multiple platforms including Windows and Linux.
  5. Adherence to established standards, which is a high priority for open source software development.
  6. Ability to use and link to other open source software
Most proprietary software comes without the source code, which is the code originally written by the programmer. Without this code you do not have right to change the way the software is developed. When you buy proprietary software you are essentially buying the right to use the software in a specific way, and in many cases the company that developed it owns the software, and you just purchase rights to use it.

The main difference between commercial support for proprietary software and commercial support for open source software is that the proprietary software is obligatory and the open source software is optional. If you opt out of paying for support for proprietary software, you lose the right to use it in most cases. The costs incidentally tend to be quite high for proprietary software.

Perceived advantages of proprietary software include:

1) Reliable, professional support and training available;
2) Packaged, comprehensive, modular formats; and
3) Regularly and easily updated.

The downside however is that it is:

1) Costly, and
2) has closed standards that hinder further development.

Open sources software has the advantage of:

1) Low cost and no license fees;
2) Open standards that facilitate integration with other systems; and
3) it is easily customizable.

The down side is:

1) Lack of professional support;
2) Evolving developer communities;
3) Lack of release co-ordination; and
4) Erratic updates. However, with such a large development and user-base, many discussion forums and help sites are available for users.

So what is the right solution for you and your organization? Generally, for smaller organizations and projects, Open source solutions seem to suffice. The difference in cost more than makes up for the perceived disadvantages mentioned above. Larger organizations seem to require more robust, high-quality product with high levels of service and support. They want responsibility, reliable assistance, and support from their suppliers.

With rapid developments in technology, chances are you can find tools to meet your training needs in either the open source or commercial sector. But open source provides unique advantages which include filling the low-cost high-control niche that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve through commercial, proprietary avenues.

Sophia P. is the editor of and, information and resource guides for e-learning and degree programs.

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