First of all, let’s define open source.
When a person or organisation writes the code to a program, it can be published in two major forms. One is protected by copyright and commonly called proprietary because the code is not public and cannot be edited or viewed legally and by normal means. Also the distribution is controlled by the copyright holder.
The other way of publishing code is the open-source way, by uploading it to code-sharing websites like GitHub. Users and 3rd party people can edit, copy and publish the code in many different versions. Keep in mind that open-source code is still protected by various software licenses.
Open source software is often also referred to as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).
Why open source?
The common thought of people that don’t know much about open source is “when everyone can see the code, doesn’t that make the programs and users more vulnerable?”
In fact it can. But on every person with malicious intent there are dozens of people which want to improve their favourite program. Fixing bugs and security issues as well as adding feature requests and add-ons. Open source provides the basis for an entire operating system, Linux. And while there are some commercially available programs for Linux, most software for the derivatives is open source and thus free.
Should you switch to FOSS?
Whether or not you should switch to an open source alternative to an app you are currently using depends on the user’s preferences. The main things to keep in mind are the following:
Security and Privacy:
As long as a FOSS project is being actively maintained, there’s a fair chance its security is up-to-date and due to the fact that you’re free to check the code, FOSS software is less likely to be infected by backdoors or other malicious code.
To get revenue, most proprietary software either uses freemium plans (paid upgrades) or includes adverts (which is annoying and can also pose a security risk), which is not the case with Open Source Software. Many app developers include trackers in their code to analyse user behaviour. This can be ignored, but often enough these data are collected by services from Google or Facebook, so if you’re concerned with privacy, it may a smart move to switch to FOSS alternatives.
Appearance is arguably the most important thing for the average user. App designs may differ a lot from what you were used to in your proprietary apps. A lot of white space or the use of inappropriate icons can sour your experience. An excellent example in music composing apps is Tantacruls video about musescore. Regardless, most of the better-known software is maintained and designed well enough to not be bothersome.
Updates will be frequent, but it may happen that projects get abandoned; if that’s the case, it is best to switch to different software for security reasons. If you want to stay up to date with the app and there’s no support for auto updates, you have to download every version individually. But if you’re using the Linux operating system or use the F-Droid store on Android, you’re pretty much covered with regular updates.
Open source applications are naturally free of charge, but developers appreciate donations to keep up the work. As with anything that’s free, you have to sacrifice something. Design as found in Adobe products or Microsoft Office is usually not found within most open source apps since they need to keep the design open and accessible for people to edit the code. Also most developers keep the focus on the functionality of the app.
Even though FOSS has some drawbacks (like design), it’s worth checking out at least the more well-known apps and programs. If you’re more privacy or security concerned, FOSS got you covered as well.
List of our FOSS recommendations (for Windows, Linux and Android)