Open Source Basics

What is Open Source?

Open source is something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible. Open source software is software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.

“Source code” is the part of the software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works. For example, programmers who have access to a computer program’s source code can improve that program by adding features or fixing parts that don’t always work correctly.

Open-source software is not without cost. However, when open source software is called “free,” it refers to the rights the software consumers receive, not the price they must pay. Specifically, free software refers to four core freedoms: the freedom to run the software, the freedom to study and modify the software, the freedom to redistribute the software, and the freedom to distribute your modifications.

A Brief History of Open Source

Open source is a term that originally referred to open source software (OSS). Open source software is code designed to be publicly accessible—anyone can see, modify, and distribute the code as they see fit.

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers developing early internet technologies and telecommunication network protocols relied on an open and collaborative research environment. In the United States, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which would later become the foundation for the modern internet, encouraged peer review and an open feedback process. User groups shared and built upon one another’s source code. Forums helped facilitate conversation and develop standards for open communication and collaboration. By the time of the birth of the internet in the early 1990s, the values of teamwork, peer review, communication, and openness were written into their foundations.

Today, open-source software is developed as decentralized and collaborative, relying on peer review and community production. As a result, open-source software is often cheaper, more flexible, and has more longevity than its proprietary peers because it is developed by communities rather than a single author or company.

Open source has become a movement and a way of working that reaches beyond software production. The open-source movement uses the values and decentralized production model of open-source software to find new ways to solve problems in their communities and industries.

Why Open Source?

In open source, all the easy problems have already been solved. Blogging, content management, and operating systems are all problems with established (and mainstream) open-source solutions, to name a few. This frees developers up to work on yet-unsolved challenges that are unique to and add value to an organization’s mission.

Using open-source software yields a lower total cost of ownership compared to closed-source and proprietary alternatives. Open-source software, you’re not paying license fees.

The open source produces better quality software than its proprietary or alternative counterparts. When you write closed-source software, the only developers that can potentially detect, diagnose, triage, and resolve software bugs are those that happen to be employed by the company that published the software. Generally, it is agreed that open-source software offers better security and higher quality than proprietary alternatives.

Open source uses modern software development workflows that create more rapid development cycles and frequent releases without sacrificing quality.

With open-source, since you have access to the source code, you can often apply large and small fixes at your convenience, not at the convenience of the publishing organization’s release cycle.

Open source reduces duplication of efforts, both within an organization and across organizations, by allowing for individual components to be shared. Less duplication means more work toward things that matter.

When firms work more efficiently, the economy produces more (and better) software, software that can, in turn, improve lives.

Open source allows for greater transparency of processes, whether that’s the transparency necessary to check a government action or the quasi-governmental function of a private company’s software.

  • Open source allows technical and non-technical software stakeholders to shape any software development project.
  • Open-source is how modern organizations and increasingly more traditional organizations build software.
  • Open Source Projects are Revolutionizing the Tech Stack in Most Companies

Benefits of Open Source to Customers

There are lots of reasons why people choose open source over proprietary software, but the most common ones are:

  • Peer review: Because the source code is freely accessible and the open source community is very active, open source code is actively checked and improved upon by peer programmers. Think of it as a living code rather than a code that is closed and becomes stagnant.
  • Transparency: Do you need to know precisely what kinds of data are moving where or what changes have happened in the code? Open source allows you to check and track that without relying on vendor promises.
  • Reliability: Proprietary code relies on the single author or company controlling that code to keep it updated, patched, and working. Open-source code outlives its original authors because it is constantly updated through active open-source communities. In addition, open standards and peer review ensure that open-source code is tested appropriately and often.
  • Flexibility: Because of its emphasis on modification, you can use open-source code to address problems unique to our customers’ businesses or communities. They aren’t locked into using the code in any specific way and can rely on community help and peer review when implementing new solutions.
  • Lower cost: With open source, the code itself is free—what customers pay for when they use an open-source platform like Aiven is support, security hardening, and help managing interoperability.
  • No vendor lock-in: Freedom for the user means that our customers can take your open-source code anywhere and use it for anything at any time.
  • Open collaboration: The existence of active open-source communities means our customers can find help, resources, and perspectives beyond one interest group or company.
Updated on June 27, 2023

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