What You Need To Know About Open Source Software

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Last Updated on 15 March 2018

Open SourceEven if you do not directly engage in activities that involve software development or any similar range of activities, there are plenty of reasons why you should know about Open Source Software. Open Source is not just another buzz word for nerds and technically oriented individuals.

It is a different way of looking at how software is developed and used and paying attention to what this means for the individual or business has vast implications on productivity as well as costing benefits. The Open source Software model is highly practical and success stories can be seen all around, with the Linux movement being one of the most notable examples.

What Is Open Source About

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Source code are the text based computer code instructions that outline the commands that a computer should execute in order to provide the software functionality required for a specific computer program.

In order to understand the idea of licencing, one has to go back to the concept of intellectual property rights which puts forward the claim that the creators of software have a right of ownership by virtue of their effort and creative drive in producing the software and hence reserve the rights to it.  Because the design of Open Source projects is open and accessible, they encourage open exchange, transparency and community involvement.

A Common Misconception

To most people, the idea of Open Source means “free” software. Whilst a lot of Open Source Software projects are available for free, the term “Open Source” is not necessarily synonymous with the word “free”. This is simply a misconception. The rights, brought up earlier, are applicablentowards the accessibility of the source code and to the extent with which other people, aside from the original creators of the software, may access and modify it.

A clear distinction should therefore be made between Free Open Source software and Commercial Open Source Software. A software developer may choose to offer their product for free or as a commercial offering and in either case, the software would still qualify as Open Source as long as the principles for access to source code meet the definition criteria.

Free As In Free Beer?

Having corrected the common misconception regarding the distinction between free Open Source Software and their commercial counterparts, suffice it to say that this distinction is arguably only relevant to software developers or individuals involved in the decisions regarding the development and technical maintenance of software.

For this reason, I will dwell a little longer on the free version of Open Source Software. Free Open source Software is offered completely free- as some people say- as in free beer. Often, many people misconstrue this to mean that free Open Source software is of low quality which is contrary to the reality of the matter.

Due to the collaborative frameworks involved in the production of some Open Source Software, free Open Source Software is often robust and resilient owing to the numerous numbers of people who work on it, often as volunteers. The more people work on a software project, the higher the rates at which errors, otherwise termed bugs, are discovered and rooted out which results in software of superior quality.

Getting software for free, does not necessary mean that it is a free ride. This is truer for companies or organizations rather than individuals as there are often maintenance costs as well as other general cost of ownership.

Why Would You Go Open Source

The reasons for choosing Open Source Software largely depend on the user, their disposition and what they would like to achieve. Whether you are an individual or a company, choosing Open source software can mean a large reduction in software requirements expenses. This is because commercial Open Source software licenses are often significantly lower than their proprietary commercial counterparts.

The reason for this cheaper offering is that most pricing models for Open Source software rely or returns from services associated with the software such as maintenance and customization for revenue rather than relying heavily on the sale of the product itself.

Open Source software allows the user enormous amount of control as they are free to examine all technical aspects of how the software operates and modify it to suit their needs. This is not possible with proprietary software application without the involvement of the original producer of the software because the source code is not accessible; often in the interest of protecting trade secrets.

Since Open Source Software can be used and modified freely without obvious legal implications, companies and individuals interested in software tailored to their needs can freely use Open Source projects as a starting point for custom software applications. This software model also appeals to the interest of those learning to code and develop software for themselves as they can take a look at the source code and chart their learning path towards developing software from seeing how the Open Source product works and is constructed.

Another significant reason for choosing Open Source software is that it is more robust, owing to the large number of people that typicaly work on such projects and is as a result more secure. Once again the Linux project comes to mind as a shining example in this regard as is evident in the levels of security that exist on this platform which are not matched by the direct proprietary competitor, Microsoft Windows.

Is It Worth It

Choosing to go Open Source is not an easy decision for most, but a worthwhile undertaking nonetheless. If your reason for choosing Open Source Software is tied to a single or select few software applications, you may install Open Source Software within a proprietary operating system environment as versions of most Open source software are available on the 3 major operating systems- Windows, Linux and Mac.

For a full commitment to Open Source however, especially if you are a developer, the best approach is to switch your operating system. This is what I did several years ago when I switched to Linux form Microsoft Windows. I find there are situations where I have to revert to Windows but I am predominatly a Linux user.

Operating in an all Open Source environment makes life a lot easier since all the tools I need are built with the same philosophy in mind and the returns from this commitment are enormous such that I have not looked back since.

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