(Daily Record, The (Wooster, OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Open source software has traditionally been limited to niche groups and uses. However, it is gaining a lot of momentum in use by the public.
Open source software is software that is freely distributed. In other words, it is software that is free to acquire. Everyone can access it and modify the code if they wish. The opposite of open source is proprietary software that is closely held and controlled.
For example, Microsoft Office is proprietary software. Most open source software is community based, meaning many developers in different places work independently on the software. Open source may sound really "techie" oriented (and it is), but you may be surprised to find open source software all around you and how much it is affecting innovation.
To demonstrate how open source software works, let's consider a simple application. I build a calendar application and make it open source. Then another developer downloads that code and adds a reminder function. My calendar app now has two developers and two versions.
Other developers keep building on top of the app adding more and more features. This makes the calendar app much more useful. After a few years, what started off as a simple calendar that just told me the date now has hundreds of features and can perform very complex tasks.
Now the obvious question is why would developers want to create software or contribute to another piece of software for free? For a lot of developers the answer is easy. They rely on some piece of open source software for their business so they have an active interest in supporting the community around that software.
This is why many major companies (especially web-based companies such as Google and Facebook) regularly contribute to open source software.
By far the largest mobile operating system for mobile phones is Android. The Android operating system is open source software. Many businesses rely on a desktop operating system called Linux, which is open source. Most websites are managed through what is called a content management system, including WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, and they are open source software.
In fact, many major websites have open source components from Facebook to Amazon. Even the basic building blocks of software development from programming languages such as PHP to databases such as MySQL are themselves a type of open source software.
Just because open source is freely available, doesn't mean it comes without restrictions. Creators often apply a General Public License to their creation. It is like a copyright in that it defines the rights and uses of the software but it protects the software itself from being resold or relicensed.
Sometimes this is called copyleft. The idea is to prevent other people from taking the software and claiming it as their own for commercial purposes. Depending on the use, GPL may even force developers who improve upon the code or add features to make those additions open source as well. The GPL license ensures that the open source software will always stay open to the community.
For users, open source is free. For developers it allows them to build new software more quickly. For society this means faster innovation. In other words, open source software is a big win-win- win.
It has become the foundation of countless applications that you use on a daily basis and has solved innumerable business problems. Open source software is not only here to stay, but will grow in popularity.
Brian Boyer is the managing partner of Web Pyro (http:// www.webpyro.com) located in Wooster.
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