Many times you will find or see programs being described as open source. Many people think that they already know what Open source software is; but as a matter of fact, the term “Open Source” can be interpreted and nuanced in a number of ways while it is being defined. Whether a software is “open source or not” matters to not only the developers but also the users.
What Is Open Source Software (OSS)?
This is software (and its source code) which is provided with a license in which developers and users are provided with the rights to revise, modify, and redistribute the software. Open source software is normally developed in a public collaborative manner; that is, it developed, tested and or improved via public collaboration and distributed with the concept that in order to ensure a future open collaboration, it must be shared with others.
How Does Open Source Software Work?
OSS works following a criteria which was set by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The OSI issued a standard which must be met by a program/software so as to be considered open source.
For a software to be considered open source, it must be distributed under a license which meets the following criteria:
- The software must be provided in source code form (with or without charge).
- The holder (or author) of the source code’s license can’t collect royalties on the program’s distribution.
- It may be revised and redistributed without further permission.
- The license of the software can’t put restrictions on any other software which is distributed with it.
- The license of the software must not discriminate against any individual or groups of people.
- Other conditions may also apply to the software’s use & distribution.
This is the part of software which users don’t see. It’s what the computer programmers or software developers can alter so as to change how a certain piece of software (an application or program) works. By doing so, the programmers can improve the program by fixing the sections which don’t work properly and/or add brand new features to the program. An open source software’s source can be modified and redistributed by programmers and/users as their own versions of the software.
In case a product is distributed without its source code, there has to be a public way of acquiring the source code at a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably downloading it using the internet for free. Source code which is deliberately obfuscated isn’t allowed. Additionally, intermediate forms; for instance, a preprocessor’s output, aren’t allowed.
Is Open Source Software Always Free Of Charge?
No, it’s not. Many times people misunderstand what open source entails, the implications of the concept aren’t only economic. Authors of open source software can provide the software that they have created or to which (the software) that they have contributed at a certain price; however, since the open source license may require them to issue/supply the source code while selling the software to other users, some programmers choose to charge users for the services and support instead of charging for the software itself.
The skill in troubleshooting & programming certain free open source software is in many cases relatively valuable. There are many jobs which specifically require programmers who are experienced in working on open source programs.
Types of Licenses Used By Open Source Software Projects
The types of software licenses usually depend on what the programmers prefer for their software. They include:
i. GNU General Public License (GNL)
This license specifies that if an individual modifies an open source software and decides to distribute the derivative work, the derivative work’s source code must also be distributed. In other words, creating a closed-source program from an open source code is forbidden. The changes in the source code must be released back to the open source community.
ii. BSD License
This license doesn’t require programmers to release any changes in the source code back to the open source community. Some developers consider this license to be more “free” than “the GPL” because it allows them to use the source code of a software in their personal closed-source programs; on the other hand, others consider it to be less “free” because it takes away the rights to edit and modify the source code of the derived program by the end-users.
Other licenses include: Apache License, GNU Lesser General Public License, Mozilla Public License, Eclipse Public License and MIT License.
The Benefits of Using Open Source Software
i. It’s Affordable
Since OSS is mostly free, it presents you with all the benefits of the software at no charge. On the other hand, proprietary software can cost a lot of money either through purchasing it or in yearly subscriptions.
ii. Helps Individuals in Becoming Better Programmers
Since the source code of open source projects is freely available, students may study it easily whilst learning how to make better software. As they’re developing their skills, the students can share their work, invite critique, as well as comments. In case people notice any mistakes in the source code of the program, they can share them with the others, thereby helping them to avoid making those similar mistakes.
iii. Offers Users More Control
Users can inspect the source code to ensure that the software does only that that they want it to do. They can modify any parts that they don’t like. Non-programmers can also use an open source software in any way that they want without any restrictions from the developers.
iv. More Stable and Secure Than Proprietary Software
Since many developers can work on a certain software without needing permission from the original developers, they can repair, update & upgrade the software very quickly and easily.
v. Offers Freedom and Flexibility
Open Source software can be revised by any programmer who is familiar with the code. Many accomplished development shops can always adopt an OSS project whenever necessary.
vi. It’s great for Long-Term Projects
As the source code of open source software is publicly distributed by programmers, users who rely on that particular program for serious tasks are assured that their tools will not disappear or fall into disrepair in case the original authors stop developing them. Furthermore, open source software also operates according to the open standards.
This is not a complete description as complete books have been written on the topic. However, at this moment you should be able to understand what Open Source Software actually is and why it is beneficial. You should also remember that OSS isn’t the same as Free Trialware or Shareware.