What is Open Source?

Most software available in-store or online is proprietary code, meaning that it has an owner, and that the uncompiled source code is hard to identify. It can also be difficult to modify –  an advantage for commercial applications. Examples include popular apps like Spotify, or online games like Call of Duty.

By comparison, open-source software is freely distributed, with the source code available to all – a conscious choice by developers who believe a group effort is preferable to a closed team. Popular examples of open-source software include WordPress and Linux, and the movement is picking up steam as growing numbers of projects use this method.

The Open Source Movement (OSM) supports the concept of collaboration, and qualifying software will have an open-source license. This ensures the end user access to the source code, and blueprints or design which can be used, modified, and/or shared in a variety of ways. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) has a popular set of open-source software licenses based on their Open Source Definition (OSD), which requires:

1. Free Redistribution
2. Allowing Access to the Source Code
3. Allowing for Derived Works
4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavour
7. Distribution of License
8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product
9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software
10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

It’s a comprehensive list that suits the end goal of software freedom and collaborative development. Other examples include the GNU General Public License (used by many open-source projects like Linux), and the BSD license.

Many open-source projects don’t cost anything, although some do charge a fee of some sort for their services. Though arguably better than the alternative, it can be difficult to monetise compared to proprietary code.

Some of the benefits of the open-source method include the potential for quick bug fixes (as long as the project has an adequate number of developers), and certainty that no secrets are hidden away in the code. Flaws can include smaller projects being abandoned due to a lack of funding or developers, as well as a tendency to be less user-friendly, since developers don’t always work with anyone else in mind, often improving the software for themselves instead.

👉 Open-source software and ‘free software’ have different goals. Free software is concerned with user freedom, which can lead to some confusion. Open-source advocates have a more pragmatic approach, focusing on practical benefits rather than ethical issues. The same goes for many users, who just want the software to work well.

While it isn’t necessarily better than proprietary software, the open-source method offers a viable alternative in many cases, and it’s always worth checking to see if there’s an open-source option available.

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