Open Source Software: Less Feature-Rich Than Proprietary Competition?

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 09, 2010

Linux Journal has initiated an interesting conversation about the feature-richness of open source software. "Do you feel, in general, that open source software is less feature rich when compared to its commercial counter part?" the author writes. "I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there certainly are open source packages that are lacking features when compared to their commercial equivalent. I also feel that there are open source packages that put their commercial peers to shame, both in feature sets as well as usability and support." Does open source software suffer from being incomplete?

The Linux Journal post also includes a citation of OStatic's own Joe Brockmeier's presentation at LinuxCon last year, where he noted that many open source products are only 90 percent complete. I would tend to agree with that. If we're talking about the majority of open source software packages, they often tend to have slightly smaller feature sets than proprietary alternatives. However, it's only in some categories that this can really be called a shortcoming.

One of my favorite open source word processors is Abi Word. Deliberately, it looks and feels like the proprietary word processor that most people use: Microsoft Word. Truth be told, though, it has a smaller feature set than Word. The point is, though, that it has every feature that I care about and is much leaner and faster than Word, and it's also free and ultimately customizable. I would say the same about open source spreadsheets. They don't pack the feature punch of an Excel, but they're leaner and more flexible.

Users of software applications have become increasingly task-driven over the years, and there are countless free, open source applications that get jobs done quickly, with minimal fuss. They also often have very short learning curves.

Notably, one of the commenters in the Linux Journal discussion notes that the tables are turned if an open source project has a strong commercial benefactor, along the lines of SugarCRM or Hadoop. Not only is there no exact equivalent to Hadoop in the proprietary software arena, but commercial benefactors ranging from Yahoo to Cloudera contribute to Hadoop. Hadoop is as feature-rich as its benefactors need it to be.

Commercial open source software is a newer trend than open source software itself. Over time, it is likely that the distance, in terms of feature sets, between proprietary software packages and open source ones will be closed by contributions from commercial interests. At least that's true for many important packages. It goes to show that even though many people in the open source community frown on commercial interests, companies that back open source projects can have a profoundly positive effect on them.