Open-source-sa-me: Open Source Revealed

10Sep06

Have you ever just paused for a second and wondered, what life would have been like if the Internet did not exist? Yeah, I know…it’s almost unthinkable. 

The Internet has become an integral part of our lives and it’s partly due to the large chunks of communication that we conduct online. The collaboration via e-mails, the free exchange of ideas and information that we perform on a daily basis is to a large extent, what brought about the Web in the first place. 

What we perhaps tend to forget, is that during the early stages of the Internet, there was a huge availability of free software and programming languages (paying over-the-top prices for software today tends to induce such amnesia).

It was available freely mainly to get the Web to where it is today. In the process, a few individuals have reaped, massive financial rewards, where for them, like Warren Buffett, donating 37 billion dollars to a charity organization is merely chump change (you can tell I’m bitterly envious, can’t you?). 

Call it utopian or otherwise, but we have benefited tremendously from the development of the Internet. And this development has spawned a whole community in and of itself. It’s called the OSI – Open Source Initiative. Open sourceOpenSource is what is used to describe the free usage of software I alluded to earlier. But there’s more to it, as explained on OSI’s website:

“The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

We in the open source community have learned that this rapid evolutionary process produces better software than the traditional closed model, in which only a very few programmers can see the source and everybody else must blindly use an opaque block of bits.

Open Source Initiative exists to make this case to the commercial world.

Open source software is an idea whose time has finally come. For twenty years it has been building momentum in the technical cultures that built the Internet and the World Wide Web. Now it’s breaking out into the commercial world, and that’s changing all the rules. Are you ready?

So as an user, you are attributed rights to take freely, an open source’s application source code, modify it as you please, as long as the distribution terms of the software is complied with.

The open source community is one that challenges the absurdity of having to pay exorbitant prices for proprietary software, or even paying for software, period. Mind you, the open source community is not some, ‘fly by night’ bunch of misfits, who sounds the clarion call for ‘free-dom’, every time Microsoft releases a press statement.

Open source has become a serious contender to companies selling proprietary software. More and more businesses and non-profit organizations are turning to open source for business solutions and even as part of their innovation strategy. William C. Taylor and Polly G. LaBarre, both of Fast Company fame, have expounded on this growing popularity of open source in their new book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. If you’re harboring doubts about the viability of open source in business, their book can help alleviate them.

Linux, Unix, Wikipedia, Mozilla Firefox, are some examples of open source development. You could well be using an open source application right now in the form of the Firefox browser.

So Why Should I Care About Open Source?

Well for one, you could be saving a whole lotta cash. Because apart from buying your PC, everything else – you can get for FREE. And that includes your operating system.

I just mentioned the Firefox browser – a direct competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The OS’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Windows would be Linux. You can get an open source version to practically any software that is commercially available on the market today – it’s just that those who live outside of ‘Geekdom’ are not aware of this.

There are of course the cons of choosing the open source option over the commercial equivalent – one of which is – if you’re need of technical assistance, it’s not as easy as picking up the phone and speaking to the tech guy. You will need to get your hands dirty by rummaging through the forums to get the help you need. This could be time consuming and slightly frustrating in an emergency situation. But if you’re the kind of person who enjoys getting under the hood of your car and tinkering with the engine, then open source is probably your cup of tea. The money you save makes a difference.

Is Open Source The Same As Freeware?

No. Freeware is free for you to download and use, but the copyright belongs strictly to the programmer, developer or originator of that software. You are not allowed to toy with the code.

What About Shareware?

No, shareware is not similar to open source as well. Shareware is usually offered to you as a free download for a specified amount of time; otherwise known as a ‘free trial’. After which, you are required to buy the product. 

To get a better idea of how freeware and shareware works, head on over to Download.com. Browse through its offerings of freeware and shareware. You might wanna grab a Subway sandwich though. It could take some time getting through even a quarter of that site.

Open source has its fair share of fanatics and critics. It has drawn enough attention to itself to force some leading analysts and researchers to address this issue. In my upcoming posts, I will be pointing you to valuable open source applications that I know you will be delighted with. Whether it’s for home or business, you’ll definitely find a use for it.

Who knows, commercial software may even be a thing of the past for you.

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