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Open Source Software

February 9th, 2009 No comments

Over the past few years, I’ve become a huge fan of the open source software movement.  Recently, I became aware that many people aren’t aware of open source software and those that are aware don’t understand much about it.

What is Open Source Software?

Open source doesn’t just mean Free, however the first guideline set by the Open Source Initiative is that the software be freely distributed.  Open Source software has source code that is readable and editable by anyone.  Open source projects are posted in a public forum where a team of developers work to develop / improve the project.  Before a software application can be considered open-source it must conform to the guidelines set forth by the Open Source Inititative.  These guidelines are listed below and serve to protect the developers, users, and true essence of what it means to be open-source.

Open Source Definition

The Open Source Definition is used by the Open Source Initiative to determine whether or not a software license can be considered open source.  The definition was based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines, written and adapted primarily by Bruce Perens.

Introduction

Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code.
The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

Open Source Initiative, http://opensource.org/docs/osd

How about quality?

One misconseption about open-source software is that is somehow subpar to traditional closed source software options.  Many closed source software development companies try to argue that open-source development projects don’t offer any guarrentees that the project will be supported and updated in the future.  The flaw in this arguement stems from the assumption that closed source “Pay for Software” companies will always be in business and support future releases of their products, and we all know that this is not the case.   So is there any truth in this statement?  It is true that some open-source projects never really get off the ground an don’t get the public support to make them a sucess.  However, many open-source projects recieve great attention, especially from the software development community.  In fact, many  sucessfull open-source projects receive updates and fixes quicker than their traditional software counterparts, due to the fact that the source code is available to anyone – the more people using the code, the quicker someone will develop improvements and fixes.

Free? – Where’s the Catch ? – How about Funding?

Given the fact that open-source software is given away for free, numerous alternative funding models, have emerged. Wikipedia points out, “Independent developers or companies may benefit from consultancy fees or charging for services related to the end use of the software, such as training. Several free OSS packages may have ‘professional’ versions which have enhanced capabilities and are sold commercially.”  Open source software has recently gained the respect and support of public and private companies, as well as governments agencies.  Some organizations have chosen to fund open source development companies for their software needs, rather than pay for commercial licenses. Many commercial open source applications are developed and distributed by companies as a combination of both open and closed source components. In this case, the company benefits from the availability of OSS, and thus in turn may end up funding OSS maintenance and upgrades when it benefits their application as a whole.

Where can I go to get Open Source Software?

Two great sources for open-source software are:

Links – To Learn More

Source Forge – a great place to find and download open source software

Open Source Initiative – is a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community

Open Directory Project –  the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.

OSDir – all things open

LXer- Linux News

FOSSPlanet – RSS Open-source feeds and more

__________________

Obama: Open Source President?

Do Obama’s strategies and  ideals support the philosophies of the open-source movement?  Watch and decide for yourself…..

written by: Christian Birch, Copyright 2009


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