Refers to software that is distributed with its source code so that end user organizations and vendors can modify it for their own purposes. Most open source licenses allow the software to be redistributed without restriction under the same terms of the license. For the complete, official definition of open source, visit www.opensource.org/docs/osd. For a list of approved open source licenses, visit www.opensource.org/licenses.|
There are thousands of open source programs, and although they are used on most platforms, they are particularly common in the Unix world. Major examples are the Linux operating system, Apache Web server and JBoss application server. See Linux, Apache and JBoss.
Free and Paid
A great amount of open source software is available at no charge, and many open source projects are developed by a community of volunteers. However, there are many commercial vendors that enhance open source software and charge a fee, the most notable example being a distribution of Linux (see Linux distribution).
Free and Open Source
In the late 1990s, open source software was derived from "free software," meaning free of restrictions and why the phrase "free and open source software" is often used. Whereas the "free software" movement promotes the user's freedom as an ethical issue, the philosophy of open source focuses on the practical benefits when users cooperate with each other. Nearly all open source software is free software, but there are occasional exceptions because the definition of free software is more strict (see free software).
Open source proponents claim that because the source code is continuously reviewed by new programmers, it eventually produces a more bug-free product. In addition, the wide variety of contributors provides enhancements and refinements that would take much longer with proprietary software or never be added.
Vendors of proprietary software counter by saying that "too many cooks spoil the broth!" They maintain that having complete control over software ultimately results in better products. Clearly there is good and bad software from both camps, but there is empirical evidence that open source has advantages. "Software Industry vs. Software Society: Who Wins in 2020?" is a provocative article about the subject by Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative (www.computerlanguage.com/2020.pdf).
Primary Advantages of Open Source
The one advantage most people tout is free, and without a doubt, many organizations save money. Millions of instances of open source software are in use, most notably for Web servers. However, a company has to train or hire inhouse talent to support the software or rely on the community at large for help. Because of the support issue, quite often, companies use both free and paid versions.
A second major advantage is flexibility. Users of open source software can modify the programs to fit their needs, and many companies use open source for this reason alone.
Another advantage of open source is the ability to fast track a project. Since there is no contract to sign, IT departments can begin using the software without waiting for contractual negotiations to be completed.
Lastly, as long as there is one remaining, devoted contributor, the software will continue to be enhanced. In the world of proprietary, commercial software, a useful program that users may truly love is often abandoned if it does not generate sufficient profit compared to other products. For more information, visit www.opensource.org and www.sourceforge.net. See free software, Shared Source and open source hardware.