Colin Walls has over thirty years experience in the electronics industry, largely dedicated to embedded software. A frequent presenter at conferences and seminars and author of numerous technical articles and two books on embedded software, Colin is an embedded software technologist with Mentor … More »
In an open-source world, it’s all about integration
October 16th, 2017 by Colin Walls
I have historically been somewhat skeptical about open source software (OSS). I am always wary of anything that is “free” and subscribe to the TANSTAAFL (“there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) principle. It has taken me quite a few years to understand that open software is not free – it is just a different business model from the usual “we make it, you buy it” approach.
I am only now coming to grips with how the OSS model really works, why it is a good thing and how business can leverage it to mutual benefit …
We are used to thinking about software development as writing code. However, if we are going to build an embedded Linux system with hundreds of packages, most of the code already exists! This is the big attraction of using the operating system. Our challenge is gluing it together – which of course does require some code. But, the primary hard problems become different. For example, when something breaks, it may well not be in your code – it is in the underlying OSS. This raises some interesting questions:
These are all very valid questions, which occur all the time during deployment of OSS. Solving them costs money. This is why OSS is not free.
With lots of software, like a real-time operating system (RTOS), for example, you have a “make vs buy” decision to make. You can write your own RTOS, which will have significant development and ongoing support costs, or go to a commercial supplier and make a purchase. Deployment of OSS gives a similar opportunity to choose between two possible approaches:
The choice is yours. But, however you go about it, OSS is not free.
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