During the early years of software development, programmers would often share software in order to learn from one another and grow the field of computer programming.
This spurred the creation of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and included David Knuth’s TeX typesetting program in 1979 and Richard Stallman’s GNU operating system in 1983. In fact, the early web browser Netscape was a free software with source code that would later go on to help develop open source software projects like Mozilla Firefox, a web browser that is still commonly used today.
The FSF later was replaced by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) — a group of software developers that creates software intended to be freely shared, improved and redistributed by others.
The open source movement has not been without its detractors — for instance, Microsoft’s Jim Allchin, who in 2001 stated that the OSI was an “intellectual property destroyer.”
Today, however, Microsoft and many others have joined the free and open source software movement in one way or another. This has created a major shift in how open source software is viewed.
Before we can dive into how open source code & software functions, let’s go over some important terminology.
Open Source: In general, open source refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available.
Source Code: Source code is the fundamental component of a computer program that is created by a programmer. It can be read and easily understood by a human being. When a programmer types a sequence of C language statements into Windows Notepad, for example, and saves the sequence as a text file, the text file is said to contain the source code.
Free Distribution: Free distribution doesn’t sound like a specialized term, does it? It’s not, but understanding how this term fits into the open source community will help you understand what open source is and isn’t. Open source isn’t just free access to the source code. Not only can you use open source to develop a custom application, you may then freely distribute your application.
Community: Once the original programmers distribute an open source program, it goes out into the wide, wide world, where everyone uses and supports it. That’s the program’s community — a collaborative effort, where developers improve the code and share what they’ve learned. An active and knowledgeable community is vital to the health and success of an open source program.
What Is Open Source?
Open source code, as stated above, refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. However, simply putting your code online for others to see doesn’t necessarily make it “open source.” There are a few requirements for it to actually be considered open source code.
The software being distributed must be redistributed to anyone else without any restriction. Also, the source code must be made available, so that the receiving party will be able to improve or modify it. Additionally, the license can require improved versions of the software to carry a different name or version from the original software. As long as these characteristics are present in your code, it can be considered “open source” and inspected by anyone.
Open source software programmers can actually charge money for the software that they create or help out with. However, some programmers charge users money for software services and support instead, as they’ve found it to sometimes be more lucrative. This way, their software remains free of charge, and they make money helping others install, use, and troubleshoot it.
Although some open source code and software remains free of charge, having the skill of programming and troubleshooting can be quite valuable for some people. Many employers specifically hire programmers with experience working on open source software.
Open source code refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. Open source software programmers can actually charge money for the software that they create or help out with.
As opposed to closed source code and software, open source code differs in several ways. Obviously, open source code is available to essentially anyone with access to it, while closed source code is not. However, there are more differences that go beyond just accessibility.
One of the main advantages of open source software is the cost; however, the term “free” actually refers to the freedom from restrictions and not so much its price. If a business (or even you) has the in-house capabilities and technical expertise to maintain the software and resources to implement, train and provide support to staff, then open source may turn out to be the most cost-effective solution.
Another thing to consider is the fact that open source software relies on a loyal and engaged online user community to deliver support, but this support often fails to deliver the high level of response that many consumers expect and require. These communities must also be found on the web and some would argue there’s no incentive for the community to address a user’s problem. On top of that, another area of high criticism is in its usability.
For closed software, usability is actually a high selling point due to expert testing that can be executed for a more targeted audience. User manuals are also provided for immediate reference and quick training, while support services help to maximize use of the software. For large companies, security is of extreme importance and that’s where open source code becomes an issue.
On a much broader scale, open source code actually has a good number of tangible benefits outside of just efficiency and accessibility. The very concept of having open source code allows for strong communities to emerge out of programmers dedicated to innovating. The global communities united around improving these solutions introduce new concepts and capabilities faster, better, and more efficient than internal teams working on proprietary solutions. Overall, the key pros and cons surrounding open source code depend on the user and their technical capabilities along with the situation at hand.
One of the main advantages of open source software is the cost. Also, the very concept of having open source code allows for strong communities to emerge out of programmers dedicated to innovating. Nonetheless, the key pros and cons vary depending on the situation of the user.
Getting involved in open source has a plethora of benefits. People become interested in being a part of something larger than themselves and want to contribute in some way. There are so many ways to do this and it allows the individual contributor to decide what they would like to do. Also, the open source community is a welcoming environment where anyone who wants to learn or share knowledge can do that easily.
Open source code is actually one of the largest catalysts of broad programming innovation. By collaborating on accessible code, programmers have the ability to create communities of innovators who can make programs that we benefit from. In addition to the plethora of direct efficient advantages that come with open source coding, there are many broader benefits of utilizing open source code and learning more about it. Familiarizing yourself with this concept gives you a much strong appreciation for many major cryptocurrency and blockchain projects which currently exist, emphasizing the notion of open collaboration for the greater good.