June 16, 2024


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What Is Open-Source Software? Here’s What You Need to Know

  • Open-source software is non-proprietary software that can allow for collaboration and modification among developers.
  • While developers are typically encouraged to view, modify, and improve open-source software, licenses are still attached to applications with varying requirements.
  • Popular open-source software applications include Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, and VLC Media Player.
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While many application creators keep the secrets of their technology under lock and key, open-source software (OSS) takes the exact opposite approach, encouraging collaboration, transparency, and community development. 

What is open-source software?

Open-source software is non-proprietary software that allows anyone to modify, enhance, or simply view the source code behind it. It can enable programmers to work or collaborate on projects created by different teams, companies, and organizations. 

Open-source software authors do not view their creations as proprietary and instead release their software under licenses that grant users with the desire and know-how to view, copy, learn, alter, and share its code. 

How open-source software works

OSS is shared in a public repository, granting access to anyone who wants to work on the source code. However, open-source software tends to come with a distribution license, which establishes how people can interact, modify, and share the OSS.

Once changes are made to the source code, the OSS should signify those changes and what methods were used to make them. Also, depending on the license, the resulting OSS may or may not be required to be free. With that, most open-source software is free but some require up-front costs or subscription fees.

Examples of open-source software

There are many examples of open-source software available online, with many popular applications allowing improvements and modifications from users. While not all of the changes and improvements made by programmers will be made available to the general public, the ability to work with these source codes can be educational and fun for some. 

Types of open-source software licenses 

While open-source software allows pretty much all programmers to use and modify it, it does come with a distribution license. Some may require anyone who modifies a program to release the new code without compensation. 

The most popular licenses include: 

  • MIT License
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0 
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0
  • Apache License 2.0
  • BSD License 2.0 (3-clause, new or revised)

Advantages of open-source software

Utilizing open-source software has many advantages over its proprietary peers, especially for businesses and organizations just getting started in the industry. 

  • Open-source software tends to be more flexible as it offers programmers multiple ways of solving problems and encouraging creative solutions. 
  • Improvements and bug fixes on OSS happen much more quickly. Because open-source software allows collaboration, issues and improvements are implemented at a faster pace. 
  • It’s cost-effective. Generally speaking, proprietary software requires internal employees to work on its source code to keep the information private. Open-source software allows those unaffiliated with the project access without its authors having to pay out for further development. 
  • You can attract better talent. If a small business launches open-source software, the ability of all programmers to view and modify it could allow the organization to recruit particularly talented employees.

Disadvantages of open-source software

  • Open-source software can be more difficult to use since they may have less user-friendly interfaces or features that aren’t familiar to all programmers.
  • Compatibility issues may arise if the hardware used to create a piece of open-source software isn’t available to all programmers working on it. This could also drive up costs of the project. 
  • Open-source software doesn’t come with the same warranties and indemnification as proprietary applications. This could become a problem as open-source software may provide no real protection from infringement.