You Don’t Trust Open-Source Software? 6 Reasons Why You Should


You might feel hesitant to use free and open-source software, especially since so much of the code comes from volunteers. In most areas of our lives, having a product come from a reputable company is a plus. It’s how you trust that something is well-made.

Why trust code from some volunteers over the high-quality software from the experts at Microsoft, Apple, and Google?

As the tech giants have shown us, their software may be reliable, but it often comes with all sorts of tracking and other forms of exploitation. Open-source software is actually much safer to use, and here’s why.

1. Public Code Is Code You Can Trust

The fundamental problem with much of the software that comes from large, well-known tech companies is that the source code is hidden from view. It’s proprietary information, and you can get in trouble for viewing, modifying, or redistributing the code.

Your only option is to use the software as-is and trust that it’s safe to run, or you can opt not to use the software instead.

This type of code is known as closed-source software. Since you can’t see the code, you have no way to know exactly what the software is doing. This gives companies the freedom to do anything that can increase their profits.

This is why the apps we use monitor our behavior, track our location, and otherwise try to keep tabs on what we’re doing. That information is valuable for companies to sell to data brokers or use to sell ads.

Say an open-source app wanted to introduce the same kind of data collection. Well, very few people actually want to be tracked. We value our privacy, so when given the choice to remove code that tracks our behavior, we do.

Since the source code is available for anyone to edit and redistribute, someone comes along and uses the code to create a new (sometimes virtually identical) app with the unwanted bits removed. This process is known as forking, and it discourages bad behavior.

Just like in other areas of our life, transparency tends to encourage people to behave better and deliver better results.

2. Those Big Companies? They All Trust Open Source

What’s the first company that pops into your mind when you think of big tech? Amazon? Facebook? Apple? All three of these companies use open-source software to varying degrees and contribute back to certain projects. And they are not alone.

Consider how Microsoft invests in the Linux kernel (an open-source operating system) to make Azure a compelling cloud computing product. Google utilizes Linux not only in the cloud but on Chromebooks and Android. The companies below were all platinum members of the Linux Foundation at the beginning of 2023.

Platinum members of the Linux Foundation

Valve pays developers to improve all the open-source software that makes the Steam Deck possible. Then there are giant corporations that do more business with other businesses than general consumers, like Oracle and IBM. Both use and develop open-source software.

The internet itself is largely built on open-source architecture. Web developers are familiar with what’s called the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP), which they often use as the foundation for websites and web apps. All four components are open source.

Developers and companies trust open-source software because it’s reliable, easier than developing an alternative from scratch, and often better than what they could develop on their own. When you use their products, at some point along the chain you’re often still relying on open-source code, even if the end result has a proprietary layer on top.

3. We Are All Invested in the Same Code

When source code is openly available, it enters a sort of public commons. Some open-source technology functions more like infrastructure. Like with public roads, we’re all invested in infrastructure being reliable, private citizens and corporations together.

So while a lot of open-source software does come from volunteers, a large amount also comes from paid employees. For example, the Linux kernel is found in supercomputers and mobile phones alike. Everyone from manufacturers to scientists has reasons to contribute patches to the Linux kernel that add features or fix bugs.

Even when companies are creating products that compete with each other in the market, they’re still invested in the open-source software they use being as good and stable as it can be.

Many open-source programs are even distributed under copyleft licenses that require people who use the code to publicly share their modifications. This prevents someone from taking the code and hiding it in their private creation. Instead, they give back, the program gets better, and we all benefit.

4. The Software Is (Usually) Given Freely

Most open-source software is free of cost to use, but this is a distinguishing characteristic that doesn’t stand out as much as it once did. These days, most software doesn’t come with a price tag. But there is a difference. Closed-source software is often free because the developers have found another way to profit from the project, usually via collecting and selling or otherwise utilizing data about us.

When you use Google Docs, every keypress is available for Google to log and monetize in any way it wishes. Google can make more money from getting as many people to use Google Docs as possible than it can from selling the software to the minority that would be willing to pay for it.

Open-source software is truly given freely, with no strings attached. When you use LibreOffice, no one knows what you do with the software.

LibreOffice is free because, in a world where so much is done on computers, it can be considered unjust to make people choose between buying expensive software or having their personal behavior monitored to take part in society. This brings us to our next point.

The world of open-source software is governed by a different set of rules than those of the proprietary software world. Many people who create FOSS do so because they believe it to be an ethical thing to do. Sometimes it’s about making money, but most of the time it isn’t. People often create and share their code out of the goodness of their hearts.

That’s not to say that people are selfless. There are many gains aside from money. Many people learn how to program by viewing already available source code, and they want to give back. Others have benefited from open-source alternatives to paid programs that they couldn’t afford and want to create similar software for people like them.

Some simply like having the freedom to do whatever they want with the software on their machines and can’t imagine placing restrictions on themselves or others.

Users hold their software creators to strict standards. People stir up outrage over changes that people wouldn’t bat an eye at in the proprietary software world, such as when Canonical added Amazon recommendations to Ubuntu (which they eventually removed as a result).

In the free software world, the default expectation is that you don’t restrict who has access to your app, you don’t limit how they can use it, and you don’t track their behavior.

6. Open-Source Software Has Stood the Test of Time

Many open-source projects have been around for decades. Consider Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, GIMP, Audacity, and VLC. These are programs that have gradually gotten better, gaining new features while losing old bugs. The same can be said for background software, like the Linux kernel, or desktop environments, like GNOME and KDE. This software is mature and proven.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t stable closed-source software that has been around for years. There are. But you already trust proprietary software. The point here is that plenty of open-source software is just as time-tested, if not more so.

It’s also worth noting how in the proprietary software world when a company goes bust, its software goes away. Unless someone purchased the rights, no one gets to see the code. It simply disappears.

With open-source software, a project may become unmaintained, with no versions no longer appearing. But the code continues to exist, and some people may use this code to create newer software. So even if an app seems dead, its code may live on.

Open-Source Software Is the Most Trustworthy Software

Open-source software doesn’t always offer the most features or the best performance. There are many proprietary programs that outdo the competition. But when it comes to matters of trust, that is an area where open-source software serves best.

It isn’t after your data. It doesn’t want to serve you ads. It isn’t trying to lock you into an ecosystem. If you want to use your computer with peace of mind, free and open-source software is the way to go.


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