Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) is computer software that can be classified as both free software and open-source software. Anyone who wishes to use FOSS is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve upon the design of the software. The Apache Software Foundation (web servers and other projects), the GNU Project (Linux) and the Android Open Source Project (mobile device platform) are some of the more popular FOSS projects that have been used to build the foundation of other products that are not free, like RedHat Linux.
Software development and licensing can be an expensive proposition: free, open-source projects can offer a tempting shortcut in software development (the code is already there) and an attractive cost-saving alternative to purchasing or licensing expensive “off the shelf” solutions. However, with the use of FOSS comes a serious risk decision: everything is provided “as is.” With a commercial solution you have warranty and support contracts that you can rely on to keep the software as current and bug-free as possible. There is no such assurance with the use of FOSS, where you’re directly responsible for the quality and security of the ‘free’ code.
Before you decide whether or not to use FOSS either as a solution to a technical issue or as part of a software development project, ensure you address the following risk factors – seeking adequate counsel in any area where you don’t feel 100% sure you’ve covered all the angles:
Code review: Open source projects are coded by the public at large. While there is certainly a Wikipedia-like argument that “the more people that work on it, the better the product,” you will still carry the liability for anything you produce/use using open source code. Be careful that your IT teams apply the same level of rigor reviewing any open-source component of your products as they would to something they coded themselves. If you don’t have the staff for this kind of review I recommend sticking with off-the-shelf business solutions as much as possible.
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