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Open source scanner or proprietary SDK? Pros & cons in an overview

Anyone who wants to integrate scanning functionalities into their app, whether native or cross-platform, faces many decisions. We explored the “Make or Buy” question a few months ago. However, even after deciding against writing custom code, companies still face an overwhelming amount of solutions for integrating the desired capabilities. Non-cost Open Source software and proprietary scanning SDKs offer both advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a quick overview…

What is Open Source software?

Open Source software describes free code, resulting from the collaboration of a large community of developers. In contrast to proprietary software, this code is available publicly and free of charge. It can be viewed and modified by any user. Thus, functions can be added, adjusted, or deleted according to the individual use case. Since the community is continuously working on the product, new features, patches, and updates are usually offered regularly.

The term Free Software stands for the goal to comprehend, change, distribute, and arbitrarily use a program, in close connection to the Open Source movement. Yet, it differs in the philosophy behind it. While the Open Source movement is business-oriented and focuses on free programs’ practical benefits, representatives of the Free Software movement see social and moral issues as critical.

Free Software and Open Source Software often underlie the same conditions.

The situation is different with Freeware. But what is Freeware software? This term describes free versions of proprietary programs, whose use is often severely limited. Commercial purposes are usually wholly excluded, making Freeware suitable for private users only. 

What are the most important differences regarding Open Source programs? 

Even though Open Source software is freely available for every user, there has to be one person holding the right to the license, who must first grant it for the program to fall under the FLOSS category. A lot of Open Source software is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which requires programs integrating FLOSS to be licensed under GPL or a compatible license.

Copyleft is one of the most relevant clauses, as it prevents free software from being transferred into the proprietary domain. Modified versions of an Open Source program must therefore remain freely available without restriction. This includes all GPL licenses with so-called weak Copyleft, which allows integration into proprietary software components to a limited extent without the obligation of turning the proprietary code into FLOSS as well.

The regulations of the GPL also allow the project to be split off as a “fork”. This usually happens when several developers pursue different goals with the original software or when someone wants to resume an inactive project. In this case, the original software is forked as an exact copy under a new name and henceforth developed independently and freely accessible.

The advantages of Open Source tools: 

  • Free of charge.
  • No dependence on the manufacturer.
  • Plug-in capable software.
  • High security: The code can be viewed entirely and checked for vulnerabilities or malware beforehand to avoid external threats.

What are the disadvantages of Open Source software in comparison to proprietary programs? 

The use of Open Source software is subject to some legal restrictions. While free use is the focus of the movement, there are limitations, especially concerning integration into proprietary programs. For example, in terms of the GPL, all programs that contain Open Source code must be made publicly available. 

Besides, Open Source software is never a comprehensive solution. If you want to add a document scanner with integrated text recognition into your mobile app, you can assemble this from various freely available libraries. In this case, that would be the scanning API, image filters, the user interface, and the OCR text recognition. Each of these individual components is then again separately subject to its license and available under different terms of use. 

These must be checked and combined so that all the software components used are legally compliant. As soon as these Open Source programs are split off and developed as a fork for the company’s business purposes, all updates from the developers initially involved in the project must be manually incorporated. This is the only way to ensure that the components are continuously compatible with the respective operating system and reflect the latest technical status. Implementing all these updates requires a considerable amount of time and effort for the company’s internal development team and involves the risk that customers cannot always be supplied with the latest version of a component immediately.

Furthermore, it must be considered here that the work on Open Source projects is often pursued as a hobby with no commercial interests attached to it. Updates appear thus irregularly or not at all so that in the worst case, an incompatibility between functions and operating system can develop. 

Despite the low initial investment, an Open Source-based project can become a considerable cost factor that is difficult to calculate in advance, primarily due to the unpredictable workload and possible compatibility problems.

Proprietary Software Development Kits – the advantages

In contrast to the individual software components required for an Open Source-supported integration, a proprietary Software Development Kit (SDK) is a comprehensive solution that can be easily integrated and adapted to the CI. Through the customizable color and text, the individuality offered by Open Source software is retained here.

Updates and new functionalities are automatically available on an ongoing basis so that the respective app developers won’t have to make any adjustments. Compatibility with the particular operating system and cross-platform wrappers is thus guaranteed at all times. Simultaneously, the functions fulfil the latest technological standards and enable an optimal user experience and precise results.

When purchasing a proprietary software license, companies receive extensive support. Customers using the Scanbot SDK receive a dedicated Slack channel where in-house developers can contact Scanbot developers in case of questions or issues. All updates, new features, and bug fixes are included in the license fee, as is support from a dedicated Customer Success Manager, who ensures all-round support throughout the whole license period. The provider of proprietary licenses is responsible for the integration, utilization, and updates of their scanner SDK running smoothly. Thus, lengthy internal bug fixes and updates of the functionalities can be avoided to guarantee a permanently flawless user experience for the app’s users.

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