Linus’ Law and the Debate for Open- or Closed-Source Software

Open source software has received a lot of hype, and many are drawn to it because it’s free or low priced. But money isn’t the only factor that plays into the debate about open- and closed-source software. Software bugs and potential security leaks are much more important issues to consider.

Linus’ Law and the Rationale Behind It

Named after Linux creator Linus Torvalds, Linus’ law was formulated by Eric S. Raymond in his essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” Raymond stipulates two different types of software, open- and closed-source, and likens each to a type of community space: the cathedral and the bazaar. The difference between the two is that the cathedral is built from the top-down, while the bazaar is built by the people, or from the bottom-up. The two structures become a metaphor for open- and closed-source coding: the source code for the cathedral is only available to an exclusive group of software developers while the source code for the bazaar is developed over the internet and in view of the public.

The central thesis of Raymond’s essay—and what is now known as Linus’ law—is this: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” The idea is that as long as there are enough users, or people in the bazaar, bugs in the software will be easy to spot and fix. According to Raymond, it requires more time and energy to find bugs in closed source software because only a handful of developers have access to the code.

The Limitations of Linus’ Law

Fans of open-source software often use Linus’ law to argue that it’s better than closed-source software. However, there are a few limitations to this argument.

More Is Not Always Better
Having more people look at your code isn’t always better. That’s because a large number of users doesn’t always add up to the value and expertise of a core of expert developers. While they may spot bugs, most users aren’t capable of fixing the code. Even users who are also developers may not be able to fix bugs in the source code because there is a big difference between creating and altering your own code and fixing someone else’s.

Having more people work on the code is also not the most efficient way to handle things. With closed-source software, a handful of developers search deeply and specifically for errors. Then they can divide up who will fix what in order to create a usable program.

The Takeaway for Linus’ Law

While Linus’ law doesn’t necessarily make a good case for open-source software over closed-source software, it has some good applications for both. Many companies have been following Raymond’s suggestions all along.

Release Often and Early
This is certainly the strategy for Microsoft Windows. Instead of waiting until there is a final, perfect product, Windows operating software gets released often and early. Earlier versions may have bugs, but they’re easy enough to fix using regular updates.

Listen to Your Users
Having a lot of users who can view the source code is not the secret to success. But having a lot of users using your software will help you improve it and iron out the kinks. When you develop software, it’s very important to pay attention to your customers and implement great ideas that they bring to you.

Have a Large Group of Beta Testers
The more beta testers you have, the quicker you will find bugs in your software. It’s important to expand your user base as fast as you can even if you have to offer free or low-cost solutions in the development stage.

When Closed-Source Software Makes More Sense

Open-source software definitely has its place. If you’re a developer and enjoy tweaking the code or embedding your own solutions, then using open-source code is the only way to go. However, for most people who aren’t enamored with programming, closed-source software offers the better solution.

User Friendly
Closed-source software is built with consumers in mind. This means most closed-source software like eFileCabinet is easy to use. You don’t need an entire IT department to show your employees how to use the software. It’s intuitive and makes your life easier right from the start.

Up-To-Date
Open-source software sometimes offers innovative solutions. However, it’s also possible that you run across a program the main developers are no longer interested in. This means you could end up with software that’s severely out of date and insecure. On the other hand, closed-source software is continually updated. Cloud software even updates automatically. You don’t have to download anything.

Secure and Stable
When you’re thinking about purchasing software for your company, the most important considerations are stability and security. While open-source software is built with security hacks in mind, the source code is available to anyone who wants it. That’s definitely an argument for using closed-source software like eFileCabinet.

Are you interested in learning more about going paperless with DMS? eFileCabinet’s document management software is a solution that makes sense for your business. Fill out the information on this page to start your free 15-minute demo.

By | 2016-12-15T11:59:01+00:00 December 21st, 2015|
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