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Dispelling the myths of open source licences

Misconceptions surrounding the rights and obligations provided by open source software in the enterprise have fueled the spread of fear, uncertainty and doubt. A better understanding of the role open source licensing will help organizations realist the full potential of open source investments.

The benefits of open source software (OSS) afforded to business have been well established and the implementation of appropriate policies governing the use of open source is critical for maintaining security and integrity of internal systems. The rights and obligations granted to users of OSS are documented in open source licenses distributed with the software as prescribed by the original developer. This particular aspect of open source is often poorly understood and, for many years, opponents of open source circulated many arguments critical of licensing requirements. With so much false or inaccurate information about these licenses generating FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in the business world, how can organisations be assured their investment in open source is the right decision?

Innovation leaders Intel and Red Hat are strong advocates of open source and committed to ensuring best-of-breed open source technologies are accessible for businesses. Experience in providing enterprise-ready open source solutions combined with an acute understanding of philosophies driving the open source movement mean both companies are well placed to help simplify some of the these complexities and deliver significant value to your business. To that extent, there are several dangerous misconceptions about open source licences that need to be addressed.

A commonly-held yet inaccurate belief holds that any modifications or customisations made to open source software must be publicly released. This perpetuates fear that corporate intellectual property or sensitive business logic developed with open source software may be at risk. For purely private or internal use, there is no requirement for any modifications to be released publicly.

Another often-cited fallacy is that open source cannot be used in conjunction with proprietary software. Proponents of this view argue that free software licenses contain stipulations that render them incompatible with closed-source licenses. There are no such restrictions and it is entirely legitimate to use proprietary software (such as payroll, accounting, or ERP systems) with open source technology (such as Linux).

Closed source or proprietary software will generally require acceptance of an end-user license agreement (EULA) before the software can be used. A EULA may impose restrictions on how the software can be used, including limiting the number of servers the software may be installed on or number of users that can use software. Proprietary licenses do not permit end users to modify or redistribute software. On the other hand, open source licenses do not impose restrictions on how software can be used and in some cases explicitly grant users additional rights to modify and redistribute the software.

It is important to understand that free software licenses form a contract between the user and software developer. In contrast, prominent open source vendors such as Red Hat provide value-added subscription services offering enterprise-grade technical support, hardware and software assurance, and access to expertise and knowledge bases to help enterprises maximize their returns on open source investments. Coupled with Intel-powered datacenter infrastructure, Red Hat subscriptions deliver cost-effective open source alternatives to restrictive proprietary systems. This approach allows enterprises to employ open source technology to innovate and rapidly deploy scalable solutions to meet business demands faster, without compromising reliability and quality assurance.