What is Open Source?

In the last few years, you may have heard of this new programming model. Not like C++, Java, or Python. Those are languages. Different boxes of tools for the same jobs. By programming model, I mean different way of writing applications.

Open-source software is exactly what it sounds like. You (the average user) can have access to the source code for it’s corresponding piece of software. You may be thinking “Uh, great. Now what?” Doesn’t sound like much? When you get the source code for an Open-source application, it’s not partial, or locked in someway. It’s all there for you to take apart, rebuild, destroy, modify, whatever you want. If something doesn’t work the way you wanted, or the program didn’t come with a certain feature, you can enable it. Pending you have the programming skills to do so.

Every program has sourcecode. What differs Open-Source software from others (Microsoft products come to mind) is it’s licensing. Linux and most free software is licensced under the GNU GPL. Explaing GNU can confuse some people so I’ll leave it alone for now, but the GPL stands for General Public License.

Any peice of code licensed by the GNU General Public License means that you (the user) can modify and redistribute your own version of the same program. The only stipulation is that while you can do anything you want with this software, if you choose to redistribute your own version of the code, you MUST include the source code, free of charge or any restriction. It works like this. If you modify the source code for Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, and release it to the public, you must include the source code for free. A common misconception is that you can’t charge for open-source software because it has to be free. This isn’t exactly true. It depends on what context you have the word “free” in. Open-source software must under any circumstance remain free as in freedom, but this “free” doesn’t mean you can’t charge money for it. A good example is Red Hat. Red Hat is a commercial distributer of the Linux operating system. They sponsor a free version based on Red Hat Linux, called Fedora Linux. Fedora is free of charge, and open-source. Red Hat also makes a commercial version of Linux meant for servers and workstations, called RHEL, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat doesn’t offer this OS free of cost, but will provide full source code for it. When you pay for RHEL, you pay for Red Hat’s award winning 24/7 tech support, not the OS. RHEL uses Red Hat logos and trademarks, which are owned by Red Hat. However, their OS is based on Linux, and Linux is Open-Source. Get it? It might seem a bit weird at first, but that’s essentially how Open-source companies make their money.

You may be wondering who makes a product and gives it away for free. Any company with sane management would give their product away. The truth is, Open-Source software is created by computer users, for computer users. It’s made by everyday people such as you and I, but these people have the programming skills. They do it in their spare time, cause they want to. I don’t know about you, but when I’m doing something I want to do, I do it very well, or at least give my best effort. It’s not hard for a small community of users to create an open-source program, because there’s power in numbers. If some company is to make a full-fledged office suite, for example, lets say it would take 100 programmers and software engineers 10 months. That’s 100 people, working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 20 days a month. A very active community of 100,000 programmers writing the Open-Source competing office suite, could create the same thing sooner. That’s 100,000 people working an hour a month. Every one has to do less work, and also, when it comes to fixing problems or security holes, I’d rather have 100,000 people checking my work for quality than 10 top programmers in my department. Open-source software usually has a great security track-record.

Open Source software has changed the way many of us look at ownership, society, business, and not to mention computer software. It’s turned the Computer and Electronics worlds up side down. It’s nothing short of a revolution. For a better understanding of Open-Source software, I highly recommend you watch the video <a href=”http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7707585592627775409″>Revolution OS</a> I hope you’ve got Flash installed, cause this is a link to the video. Take some time and watch it. You’ll love it.


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