Buzzwords – What is open-source software?
by Keris Lahiff
The IT community has a habit of creating words and initialisms to rival Dr Seuss and for an outsider, their use can be perplexing at the best of times. Open-source software is one such buzzword that has been bandied around in the tech crowd for years but is becoming increasingly common in consumer technology. Let’s breakdown what open-source technology actually is.
Open-source software originally referred solely to the public distribution of the source coding of a software program, as a means of communal collaboration and improvement. However, the definition has evolved and generally speaking can refer to any software program free to the public. While there are slight differences between free software and open source software, in layman’s terms, they are accepted as an interchangeable term.
The Open Source Initiative, a group formed in 1998 to promote and foster the collaborative and accessibility of open source platforms and programs, provides criteria as indicative of open-source software. Some of these conditions include:
- Free redistribution.
- Source code must be included with distribution.
- Any modifications and derived work, based upon the original code must follow the same free redistributive licensing.
- Must not discriminate against any individual or group.
- Must not discriminate against fields of endeavour.
- License should be specific to a product, restrict other software and must be technology-neutral.
Essentially what open-source software means is a readily-available piece of software that enforces the freedom of users to activate and use the program, study and modify it and redistribute it. Rather than thinking of it as zero-cost software, it is more akin to the idea of the freedom of speech, meaning the user doesn’t have ownership of the program – rather they are granted certain liberties with a communally-owned piece of programming.
A 2008 report by the Standish Group found that approximately six per cent of the world market for software was made up of open-source products and accounted for an annual $60 billion loss to software companies charging for programs. With open-source software’s continuing proliferation, this can only have increased.
So how can this help your business? Well, for one (and a big one at that) is it is freely available for download and redistribution. With no licensing fee, businesses can download software programs that can increase productivity, organisation and communication within the company.
And, due to the collaborative approach of open source software, source code can be downloaded and manipulated to suit your business’ specific needs. Thanks to the IT crowd’s innovation, new programs and updates are released at breakneck speed.
Here are some of the most popular and reliable examples of open source software (some you may even use without realising their open-source nature):
- Mozilla Firefox, an internet browser, allows for thousands of third-party add-ons to the basic browser model, letting the user customise their internet surfing sessions. As of March 2010, Firefox accounted for 24.43 per cent of the share of web browser usage.
- TightVNC is a free remote control program which allows you to access and control a computer remotely – making a mobile office even easier.
- WordPress is the most popular blogging platform (used by more than 200 million websites).
- OpenOffice rivals Microsoft Office with the ability to create text, spreadsheet, presentation and database documents. The design is very similar to Microsoft Office so the leap between the two is easy.
- VLC is a video and audio player and unlike many paid applications, it supports almost every format, making it a handy go-to for multimedia consumption.
- Pidgin is an instant-messaging service, which combines and centralises the different IM products on the market, such as MSN, Goggle Talk and MySpaceIM.
- MediaWiki is a site, which allows the software and layout of Wikipedia to be used publicly. The software is particularly useful for those websites that receive a high volume of hits per day.
- Joomla is a content management system that allows the user to track and manage content on their website. This is useful for corporate and small business websites and intranets.
- GnuCash is an accounting package based on a double-entry bookkeeping system, similar to Quicken.
Published on: Monday, December 13, 2010