Open-source software, advantages and recent COVID-19 examples

May 12, 2020

What is open-source software?

Essentially, open-source is opening up source code of software to others and giving them permission to use it. This means that other people and organizations are generally allowed to, depending on the license, use and modify your software for their own purposes without financial consequences. Under closed-source circumstances, only the original creator of the software can make changes.

One of the great advantages of open source is that the quality of the software can be high as many people or even entire communities are closely involved in the development, the fixing of bugs, and the thought process. Often open-source projects come with a license describing the process and possibilities of the software. Some licenses even state that your modifications to the software have to be made public as well, so that others can benefit from it again.

Open-source as a modern way of thinking

The new economy will be one of cooperation, sharing knowledge and learning together. Explicitly, this is about thinking in possibilities to work together, instead of thinking in competition. Today, innovation cycles are extremely fast and to keep up with this it is crucial to adapt and learn fast. You cannot keep up alone and thus learning together is the solution. This fits the essential idea of open-source software and because of that open-source can be used as an innovative way of thinking. Here in the Netherlands, as a country, we have always used this way of thinking. The foundation of our economy is knowledge and the open economy.

Do I have to make my software project open-source?

  • Commercial purpose: If your software project has a clear commercial purpose and contains information that must remain secret to maintain your business model, then you obviously should not make your software open source.

  • Societal purpose: If the idea of your software project is to only make something better and not to monetize this idea, then it might be a good idea to make your project open-source.

  • Reputation: Making (parts of) your project open-source can be beneficial for your reputation as well. It gives a clear signal that you are a true innovator with a collaborative mindset.

Making your software project open-source could be beneficial, but the choice to do so truly depends on what the goal of the software project is. From an economical cost point of view, more open-source software reduces the overal societal costs, because you can work upon someone else’s work and improve this and use it for your specific project and case. This means a faster innovation cycle and a more efficient social learning curve.

COVID-19 & open source

In the current COVID-19 crisis, open-source initiatives have proven itself to be highly beneficial. Some great examples:

  • Data: Data is crucial to conduct research and to make predictions on the virus. Our World in Data is an open source project that collects large datasets and make it available for research purposes1.

  • Hospital peak predictions: CHIME is an open-source initiative to make predictions about when hospitals are going to see a peek in patients and this prediction should help in the preparation of the required healthcare and capacity2.

  • Medical hardware: There are also great open-source initiatives in terms of medical hardware. The run on medical equipment resulted in scarcity and by making the designs open-source, 3D printing communities were able to help out by printing necessary medical hardware3.

  • Pharma industry : In the pharma industry (often known as very commercial) we also see great open-source initiatives. Pfizer showed open-source initiatives for a platform on which they want to share data and tools4.

It is fantastic to see how real progress and innovation results from collaboration and intensive knowledge sharing. The open-source way of thinking is here to stay.

Researchable & open source

At Researchable, we advocate the use of open-source, and making our own projects open-source where possible. A large part of our clients consists of scientific and research institutions. The sharing of knowledge has always been an important pillar in the academic world and we support this. Making software projects open-source always depends on the goal of our clients. We understand very well that if the software project serves a commercial purpose such as a SaaS model, open-source is obviously not always desirable.

References

1 https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus

2 http://predictivehealthcare.pennmedicine.org/2020/03/14/accouncing-chime.html

3 https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/3d-printing-community-responds-to-covid-19-and-coronavirus-resources-169143/

4 https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer_outlines_five_point_plan_to_battle_covid_19

Author

Eduard van Pagée

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