What Is Open Source Software? Understanding the Basics
By Emil Kristensen CMO
@ Sleeknote

Open source software refers to computer programs that are built collaboratively by a community of software developers, with the source code being freely accessible and modifiable. These programs are typically licensed under open source licenses that allow users to freely use, modify, distribute and study the software. In this article, we will explore the basics of open source software, including its definition, origin, benefits, legal considerations, common misconceptions, future trends, and more.

The Origin and Definition of Open Source Software

The concept of open source software emerged in the late 1990s as a reaction to the proprietary software model that dominated the industry at the time. Open source software is driven by a philosophy of collaboration, community and transparency, aimed at sharing source code among developers. The term “open source” was coined in 1998, and a group of stakeholders, led by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond, founded the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to promote the adoption of open source software.

Open source software has since become a major force in the technology industry, with many companies and organizations adopting it as a way to reduce costs, increase innovation, and promote collaboration. The open source model has also led to the development of many popular software tools and platforms, including the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, and the MySQL database. Today, open source software is used in a wide range of applications, from web development and mobile apps to scientific research and government projects.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Open Source Software

One of the major benefits of open source software is that it is usually free. This means that users can save money upfront, as there are often no license fees involved. Another advantage is that open source software is highly customizable, which means users can adapt it to suit their particular needs. Additionally, open source software tends to be more secure as bugs and vulnerabilities are quickly discovered and patched by the community. However, there are also drawbacks that need to be considered. For instance, open source software may take longer to develop than proprietary software since development is usually done by a community of developers who have other commitments.

How Open Source Software Differs from Proprietary Software

Open source software differs from proprietary software in that users have access to the source code. This allows users to modify the code, if necessary, and customize the software to suit their needs. In contrast, with proprietary software, the source code is kept secret and cannot be modified by users. Additionally, the licensing models of open source and proprietary software differ. Open source software licenses usually grant users the right to use, modify and distribute the software, while proprietary software licenses often restrict what the user can do with the software.

The Role of Communities in Open Source Software Development

One of the defining features of open source software is community-based development. Software developers work collaboratively on open source software projects, typically communicating through online channels such as discussion forums, email lists, and code repositories like Github. The communities usually consist of developers of different skill levels who contribute to the software in various ways. Developers may fix bugs, add new features, provide support, or document the software, among other things.

The Top Open Source Software Projects and Their Impact

There are numerous open source software projects that have had a significant impact on the technology industry. Some of the most popular open source projects include Linux, Apache, MySQL, Firefox, and WordPress. Linux, for example, is an open source operating system that powers many servers, including those used by Google and Facebook. Apache is an open source web server that powers more than 40% of all websites on the internet.

Licensing and Legal Considerations for Using Open Source Software

When using open source software, it is important to understand the licensing and legal issues involved. The most common open source licenses include the MIT License, Apache License, GNU General Public License (GPL), and BSD License. These licenses have their own specific terms and conditions, and users must comply with the license terms when using the software. Failure to comply with the licensing terms can result in legal consequences, such as fines or lawsuits.

How to Contribute to an Open Source Software Project

If you are interested in contributing to an open source software project, there are a number of ways to get involved. You can offer your programming skills to fix bugs or add features, or you can provide technical support or documentation. Another way to contribute is by donating money or time to the developers. Some open source projects, such as Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation, rely on donations from individuals and organizations to fund their activities.

Common Misconceptions about Open Source Software

There are a number of misconceptions about open source software that need to be clarified. For instance, some people believe that open source software is of lower quality than proprietary software, or that it is difficult to use. These beliefs are not necessarily true, as open source software can be of high quality, and user-friendly. Additionally, some people believe that open source software is only suitable for geeks and tech-savvy users. This is also not true, as open source software can be used by anyone, regardless of their technical expertise.

Future Trends and Developments in Open Source Software

The future of open source software looks bright, with many new projects and innovations emerging. One of the major trends is the growth of open source cloud infrastructure, which is gaining popularity in the enterprise. Another trend is the development of open source software for the Internet of Things (IoT), which promises to revolutionize the way we interact with smart devices. As open source software continues to evolve, it will likely play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of technology.

Open source software has come a long way since its inception, and it has proven to be an important force in the technology industry. While it is not without its challenges, open source software offers numerous benefits for developers and users alike. By understanding the basics of open source software, users can make informed decisions about the technology they use and play an active role in the open source community.