When to choose closed or open source

Open source has many advantages, but it isn’t always the right approach. At the Open Source Open Society 2025 conference in Wellington delgates discussed when projects should be closed and when open source is best.

…it all depends on the circumstances

GitHub head of open source Brandon Keepers says: “In an ideal world everything would be open source, but that’s not always the case”.

He says at GitHub there are three cases when it is better to stay closed:

  • If it makes money. Remember that money can be used to finance open source projects.
  • When it is specific to internal business processes.
  • When you can’t expect to maintain the project in the long-term.

Eventually many of these cases will be brought into the commons.

As an example of this he says GitHub’s billion code has not been released as an open source project. The thinking here is that making it open source wouldn’t make the code any better.

Catalyst IT founder Don Christie says one argument in favour of open source is that coding isn’t difficult.

Most of the time that means others can quickly replicate closed software. He says: “They are going to replicate it anyway. It can be better to make it open source and get the benefits of better code.”

Another argument for keeping projects open source is that there is less money in keeping them closed. Christie says: “80 percent of the value in information technology is in services. About 90 percent of New Zealand’s IT exports are in services — that’s despite all the attention given to products.”

Christie says open source also acts as a hiring strategy.

2 thoughts on “When to choose closed or open source

  1. The only reason to keep something closed as it “makes money” (except the mentioned internal software) is because you’re worried someone will take it and do it better. There is nothing inherent with open source making it free. Businesses are generally just afraid it makes it easier to copy but history has shown closed source software isn’t that hard to get a hold of. (Illegally) I could install Windows just as easy as Linux right now.

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  2. Pingback: How open source grew up #OSOS2015 | Bill Bennett

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