5 things to know about open source

If you’re not familiar with open source software it can sound strange and even a bit scary.  However at the most basic level “open source” simply means you can read the source code.  Apart from that, open source software isn’t much different from the proprietary (closed source) software you may be familiar with.  There is lots of good and bad software out there both open source and proprietary .  Let’s look at a few things open source has in common with proprietary software.

Open source software is created by passionate, talented people.

Open source projects come in all sizes, but no matter if they are large or small, they are typically developed by people who are passionate about the technology they are developing.

Usually the core development team consists of people who personally had a need or a problem to solve and started the project to address it.  When someone has a personal stake in a project they tend to care more about it than they would about ‘the next thing they are assigned.’  As the project progresses other people will join, who also have a personal need for what it can do.

Open source software is as safe as any other software.

Of course there is always risk with any type of software.  Defective and malicious code can make its way into any product.

However, when the source is open for anyone to evaluate and review it becomes much harder to hide something bad.  When more people are involved in a project, at all levels; from reporting issues, to testing to developing the code, there are more eyes are on the entire project.  The more eyes, the better chance to find any type of problem, before it causes too much damage.

If anyone ever has a concern about the safety of an open source project, they can evaluate it and put themselves at ease.

Governments and large companies use lots of open source software.

It’s not just uber geeks that use open source.  Because open source software has proven to be safe and effective, more and more people are incorporating it into their organizations.  Large companies are issuing workstations to employees pre-loaded with software such as OpenOffice, governments are creating server farms using redhat and everyday more people are installing open source operating systems like Fedora and Linux Mint.

“Open” does not always mean “free.”

Just because an application is open source that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free just like proprietary doesn’t mean it cant be free.  redhat for example is a leading open source linux operating system that charges for an enterprise license.

Some open source software may be free for personal or non profit use, while there is a charge for commercial use.  Others may be free to use, but if you incorporate them into an application you are building you would be required to open source your application.  And some are free to use as you wish with minimal restrictions.

Always evaluate the license of the software you want to use (open or closed source), and if you want to start and open source project choose a license that best fits how you want it to be used.

Open source software has long term sustainability.

Whenever you depend on a piece of software there’s always a concern that it may be deprecated, abandoned or changed in a way that you wont like.

With open source software you may (very important: read the license!) have the option to fork the code, support it yourself, and even add features you wish it had that may not be included otherwise.

When you have control of the software you depend on, you have the ability to control your own dependency on that software and you can make better long term decision for your own needs.

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