Open-source software and free APIs – to do, or not to do…


As developers, we can locate open-source code and free API’s for virtually any application or program we’re working on. Both tools can be very helpful for startups or small companies since they’re free to use and easy to distribute and modify; they can also be a learning instrument for beginners. Developers beware, though: open-source software and free API’s don’t come with quality and performance guarantees and they don’t come with support teams to assist in your progress.

That’s not to say that they don’t have their place. They do. It simply depends on how important a specific feature set is to customer experience, your in-house expertise and, most importantly, if you’re building an application for consumers or enterprises. Let’s take a look at it from the perspective of an enterprise.

Open-source software lacks maturity, support, and security that enterprises seek. Generally, open-source software comes with subpar interfaces meaning they’re not user-friendly so more in-house resources will be spent on understanding and updating functionality, making integration difficult for a novice developer. Similarly, free APIs are great but not dependable for the same reasons as open-source software: they require developers to double down on security and stability features. Using free APIs adds risk, mandating more time and money to mitigate these threats. If you distill it down, the choice to use free, open-source methods versus a private option depends on the type of information your application handles and the liabilities associated if access breaks down.  

Depending on your target market, driver compatibility may be a barrier. It is difficult to find drivers for open-source software and have confidence in their stability when developing them from free APIs. This can be disconcerting if your customers’ businesses rely on hardware peripherals for full functionality of your application. Issues could be exacerbated when customers upgrade their hardware or operating systems. Typically, free APIs aren’t built to cover these situations and open-source software is slow to update, which brings me to another issue: service and support.

Who will assist you in technical issues? Who will maintain the barcode scanning SDKs? Will you have the in-house expertise to ensure platforms have feature parity? How will you make adjustments for servers or cloud-based applications? If you’re working within a large corporation you may have the necessary bandwidth and required supporting departments to accomplish all of this. If so, great. If not, download our whitepaper to read more.

Enterprise mobility is on the rise. The ROI substantiates enterprises moving in this direction, but they need to know their IP and internal systems are safeguarded. Enterprises will put your application to the test before switching from their current data capture methods to a mobile platform.



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