Open Source Software Isn’t as Scary as You Think

Featured Contributor badgeUsing open-source software is not as scary as you think. You may have heard rumors that it is insecure or hard to maintain. When managed correctly, the rumors are far from the truth. Here are just a few of the benefits to going open source:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Open source software is typically free or cheap, especially when compared to proprietary software.
  • Start Small and Scale: You can start with the core software and add extensions to provide additional functionality. For example, add a photo gallery extension to a content management system software.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: You can change it to meet your needs because you have access to the source code. You can code your own extensions to meet your agency’s needs.

How to Choose Open Source Software

When choosing an open-source software package or optional extensions, select applications that are actively maintained. Always verify that updates are being provided regularly. Read online reviews to see what other people think about it. In many cases, you’ll find vendors who charge for support for open-source software. This is a good option if you don’t have the time to research and fix issues yourself. In many cases, you can also find vendors who will host and maintain the software for you. This is another option that might work well if you don’t have the infrastructure in place.

Best Practices for using Open Source Software

The most important thing to do when using open-source software is to keep yourself informed regarding updates. Join community forums and subscribe to receive all security updates for both core software and extensions. When security updates are released, make sure to test them on your development server first and then install them on your production system.

When using software with an active community, you might be tempted to install every new extension you come across. Resist this temptation and limit the number of extensions you install. The leaner your core software installation, the easier future upgrades will be. When you do find a new extension you want to try, install it on a development server first and test for conflicts with other extensions before adding it to your production system.

Seriously consider becoming involved in the software you are using. If you have development skills, become an active code contributor to the software. This could take the form of fixing bugs or writing extensions. If you have a good understanding of the software, you can contribute documentation or provide tech support on the forums. I know these things take time, but being an open-source contributor is a great thing to add to your resume.

Reference Links

  • Bitnami: ( – Provides installers (includes all dependencies within one installer) to download and test various open source applications
  • GitHub: ( – Search, browse, watch and even branch contributed code repositories
  • ( – Learn more about what’s available and how to get involved.

Leslie Labrecque is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). See more Featured Contributor posts

You can follow Leslie on Twitter.

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