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Managing Open Source Usage in Off-Shore, Outsourced Development: Best Practices

The Opportunities and Challenges of Open Source Software

  • June 30, 2005
  • By Kevin Bedell

Open source software is currently transforming the way corporations build and deploy their strategic IT assets. The economics behind this trend are extremely compelling; by leveraging open source programming libraries for low-level tasks such as XML processing, handling network protocols and other applications, companies are able to focus their programming resources on higher-level tasks. This can provide dramatic increases in software development productivity.

In addition, using open source libraries as part of the development process can also have a significant impact on overall software quality. Since the most common open source programming libraries are in extremely wide use, they benefit from having "many eyes on the code"; that is, they get debugged faster since so many people are using and testing them. In the end, this "community debugging" process may be one of the greatest advantages of using open source software since it can result in very high levels of software quality.

But in order to take advantage of open source software, it's also critical for companies to understand and manage the licensing and intellectual property issues associated with its use. All open source software has an owner (or collection of owners), and those owners specify how their code can be used based on the licenses they release their software under. Just because the code is open, doesn't mean there are no licensing terms to follow.

Open source software licensing terms are different than traditional software licensing terms in some respects, but they are similar in others. Understanding and managing the terms of open source licenses is similar to understanding and managing traditional software licenses. The key is to simply understand the rights and obligations the license grants you, and then monitor your use of the software to ensure you are in compliance.

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