Open Source Software

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Open source is more than just a type of software; it's a movement. Members of this vital egalitarian group believe that software shouldn't be developed and worked on only behind closed doors by a handful of high-tech "high priests." To meet this end, the Open Source Initiative was created.

The Open Source Initiative

The basic premise behind the Open Source Initiative is that software evolves at a much higher rate of speed when programmers--all programmers, all over the world--can read, modify, and redistribute the software. And studies would indicate that their beliefs are well-founded. Open Source software is reputed to be superior in areas of security, reliability and stability to traditional "licensed" software, created in a "closed source" environment, where the source code is copyrighted, trademarked, and hidden, able to be changed and tinkered with only by a small group of dedicated programmers. And improvements to Open Source software--undertaken by software programming enthusiasts and hobbyists the world over, 24 hours a day, seven days a week--occur lightning fast compared to closed source software models.

The nut of the Open Source vs Closed Source debate (read: Open Source vs. Microsoft) is copyright and trademark. You just can't make as much money off open-source. Closed source software development companies, like Microsoft, make a substantial income from selling individual copies of software. The source code, then, must become a "trade secret." Allowing end-users to change the code is impractical from a financial standpoint. When improvements to the system are made, by authorized programmers only, of course, these software developers are then able to charge further fees to consumers for upgrades.

Open source software, as stipulated by the Open Source Definition, means that it has a freely available source-code. That is not to say that open source software is the same thing as freeware. Though all open source software has source code that is part of the public domain, end-users do have the right to modify and redistribute the software. In some cases, they also retain the right to package and sell the software to consumers. From a consumer point of view, costs for Open Source software vary widely. Some are available to be downloaded completely for free (such as basic osCommerce), while other customized options do require some payment. Nonetheless, even these for-a-fee selections cost considerably less than most closed source options.

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