Introduction to Open-Source Software And its Significance

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what is open source software

You might have heard people talking about open-source software, but do you really know why this term is so popular among people working in big tech giants? Well, if you don’t know then you have come to the right place. So, in this blog you will get to know about what is actually mean by open-source software as well as how you can find them over web to learn new skills by contributing to such software.

In layman’s term, open-source software is publicly available software over internet. Some of the popular open source-software are – Mozilla Firefox, VLC Media Player, and Linux.

What is open-source software?

Open-source software is the computer software whose source code is publicly available so any interested programmer can study, modify and share the code. Open-source software is also referred as OSS.

If you don’t know what exactly source code means then let me tell you, source code is part of software which is not seen by the end user; it’s the code which is used by computer programmers to change the designing or working of the application. So, if someone has access to the source code of any application, one can customize it as per his/her need like changing the color theme, enhancing the security features, fixing bugs etc.

Evolution of open source software

As you have learnt in computer fundamentals about evolution of software, in the beginning, there was only free software. Later on, closed-source software was born, and it quickly dominated the software industry. Proprietary software is the kind of software which can be accessed by only specific person, team or organization that created it.  Even by many knowledgeable people proprietary software is the only possible model for software. Only recently the software industry has considered open-source software as an option again.

In the 1960s, when IBM introduced the first large-scale commercial computers in the market, they came with some software which was free to use, in the sense that it can be freely distributed among interested end users, so it came with source code, and it could be improved and modified. In the late 1960s, everything changed and in mid 1970s it was usual to find close-source software, in the sense that users were not allowed to distribute it, the source code of software was not freely available, and that users could not inspect, copy and modify the programs.

In late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Stallman, formerly a programmer at the MIT AI Lab, resigned, and launched the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation. The main aim of the GNU Project was to develop a free operating system(OS), and Richard started by working on some programming tools (a compiler, an editor, etc.). As a legal tool, the GNU General Public License (GPL) was designed not only to ensure that the software produced by GNU will remain free, but to promote the production of more and more free software. From here, Unix was born.

By the early 90s, UNIX dominated the internet. In the meantime, the 1980s saw huge developments in open source, which led to the communication of different programmers from whole over the world. Open source became popular day by day and companies started moving towards open-source. And today, we know how much open source is well liked.

Well, it has so much popularity among programmers then why does some companies follows proprietary software instead of the open source model then here’s the quick look about the differences between two.

Difference between open source software and close source software

Some software can be accessed by only specific person, team or organization that created it.  This kind of software is “proprietary” or “closed source” software. Closed-source software is also referred as CSS.

In such software only the original authors of the software are legally allowed to inspect, modify and copy. Examples of proprietary software are Skype, Google earth, Java, Adobe Flash, Virtual Box, Adobe Reader, Microsoft office, Microsoft Windows, WinRAR, mac OS, Adobe Flash Player etc.

The difference between open-source software and close-source software is – Its code can be modified by other users and organizations means that the source code is available for anyone to look at. The price to use open-source software is very less and there are no so much restrictions on users based on usability and modification of software as compared to close-source software. Also, open-source software are so inexpensive to use but for the use of close-source software the user have to purchase expensive subscriptions or licenses.

Let’s see its difference more clearly.

Tabular difference between open source software and closed software

Open source software Closed source software
In Open source software the source code is freely available means the general public can access. In Closed source software the source code is not for public, means only authorized people has access to the code.
In Open source software the source code can be inspected, copied and modified by other users and organizations even if they are not the original authors of the software. In such software only the original authors of the software are legally allowed to inspect, modify and copy the source code.
The price of open source software is generally free or inexpensive. The price of closed source software is high as compared to open-source software.
The open source software has very limited restrictions on users based on usability and modification of software. There are so many restrictions on users based on usability and modification of software.
If the program is popular then very large number of programmers will work on the project and can have formal discussion over the code. It has a limitation on the number of programmers/team/organizations who will work in the project.
It is purchased with its source code. It is not purchased with its source code.
Open software can be installed into any computer without any expensive licenses. Closed software needs a valid license before installation into any computer otherwise the organization have every right to take legal actions against the unauthorized programmer.
Open source software fails fast and fix faster. Closed source software has no room for failure.
Examples are Firefox, OpenOffice, Gimp, Alfresco, Android, Zimbra, Thunderbird, MySQL, Mailman, Moodle, TeX, Samba, Perl, PHP, KDE etc. Examples are Skype, Google earth, Java, Adobe Flash, Virtual Box, Adobe Reader, Microsoft office, Microsoft Windows, WinRAR, mac OS, Adobe Flash Player etc

Advantages of open-source software

Open-source software can help in many different ways. Some of them are –

  • Control over application: Users can study, copy and modify the source code of application so they can customize it as per their interest. They can experiment with fonts, colors, animations, images and can also enhance the security features of existing software.
  • Open-source contribution: For beginners in programming, contributing to open-source projects is considered as the best way to learn. They can learn and gain more experience.
  • Secure – No software is bug free and it only gets better with time. When software will be open-source, many programmers having different experience from whole over the world can spot the bug in the code and that will be resolved very quickly.
  • Build a community: Popular open-source projects starts to build up a community of contributors over time. Discussions between programmers can lead to a productive invention from the open-source code.

Open-source software on web

The largest and most popular website is Github where you can explore different open source projects as per your interest. Github provides hosting for projects using Git for version control. I hope you are cleared with your computer fundamentals including Unix commands so you can learn Git in no time. Git keeps track of all the version history and provides a mechanism to work on previous versions without changing the current version of software. You can manage your own open source project as well as work on existing open source project using Git and Github.

Takeaway

  • Open source software is the kind of software whose source code is freely available means the general public can access. Anyone is allowed to inspect, copy, and modify the source code of the software.
  • Proprietary or close source software is different than open-source software. In such software only the original authors of the software are legally allowed to inspect, modify and copy. Examples of proprietary software are Skype, Google earth, Java.
  • Users have more control over the open-source software. They can study, copy and modify the source code of application so they can customize it as per their interest. They can experiment with fonts, colors, animations, images and can also enhance the security features of existing software.
  • Beginners in programming can contribute to open-source projects to learn and gain more experience.
  • No software is bug free and it only gets better with time. When software will be open-source, many programmers having different experience from whole over the world can spot the bug in the code and that will be resolved very quickly.
  • Developers working on open source projects have huge support from open-source community so they can learn and ask for help if they don’t understand any part of the source code of freely available software.
  • The largest and most popular website is Github where you can explore different open source projects as per your interest. Github provides hosting for projects using Git for version control. Git is a version control system and Github is website where there are different types of open-source software are available.
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