What Is Open Source Software and How Does It Work?

What is Open source software?

The term open source refers to something people can share and modify because its design is publicly accessible. Open source software (OSS) refers to software that is distributed with its source code, making it available for modification, use, and distribution with its original rights. 

Source code is part of the software that only computer programmers who designed the software can control and manipulate. Therefore, only the programmers who have access to source code can change a program, add anything to it, or fix parts of it that aren’t working properly. But, OSS typically includes a license that gives general access to programmers to change the software to best fit their requirements and how the software can be distributed.

What is the history of OSS?

The open source ideas of making the source code freely available originated in 1983 as a result of an ideological movement informally founded by Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT. He believed that software should be accessible to every programmer so they could modify it as they want to, learn about it, understand it, and improve it. 

So, he began releasing free code under his license, known as the GNU Public License. This new ideology and approach regarding software creation took hold and eventually led to the formation of the Open source customization Initiative in 1998.

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How does OSS work?

Open source code is usually shared publicly and stored in a public repository. Anyone can access the repository to use the code or contribute improvements to the functionality and design of the overall project.

OSS comes with a distribution license. This license includes terms that define how developers can study, use, modify, and, distribute the software. According to the Synopsys Black Duck® KnowledgeBase, these are the five most popular licenses:

  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0—this requires that copies of modified code are made available for public use and is more restrictive 
  • MIT License
  • Apache License 2.0
  • BSD License 2.0 (3-clause, Revised or New)—this is less restrictive
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0

When the source code is changed, it must state what changes have been made as well as the methods involved. Depending on the license terms and conditions, the software after these modifications may or may not be available for free.

What are some examples of OSS?

  • Mozilla Firefox
  • GNU/Linux
  • SugarCRM
  • VLC media player
  • VNC
  • GIMP
  • LibreOffice
  • Apache web server
  • jQuery

Pros of open-source software

  • Open-source software is free.
  • It is flexible; developers can analyze how the code works and freely make changes to problematic and dysfunctional aspects of the application to make it fit their unique requirements.
  • Open-source software is stable and publicly distributed, so users can depend on it for their long-term projects. Since they know that the programmer cannot simply change the code and discontinue the project.

Cons of open-source software

  • Open source can be harder to adopt and use due to the lack of friendly user interfaces and difficulty setting it up.
  • It can pose compatibility issues. There is often a need for specialized drivers when attempting to program proprietary hardware with OSS. These drivers are typically only available from the hardware manufacturer.  
  • Unlike commercial software, open-source software can pose liability issues. It rarely contains any warranty or infringement indemnity protection. This leaves the user of the OSS responsible for compliance with legal obligations.
  • Open source can include unexpected costs in importing data, training users, and setting up required hardware.

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In conclusion, open source software has its own pros and cons but it depends on the user’s requirements if they want to go for it or not. You can contact Open source customer support to have an in-depth understanding of the software or to get answers to your questions. 

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