Open source software refers to software with a freely accessible source code. The original developers of the software make the code available to the public. Although the code is freely available to anyone, the term “free” does not necessarily mean that OSS is available at no cost. Nevertheless, most open source applications are available for free.
This type of software allows users to experience freedom in different ways. For example, anyone can access, examine, modify, use, and redistribute it without any restrictions. However, this freedom is based on different types of open source licenses and certain criteria. Firstly, the source code must be available. Secondly, users should be able to modify and redistribute the software without any limitations.
There are different categories of open source licenses including popular licenses, international licences, special purpose licenses, non-reusable licences, superseded licenses, miscellaneous, and uncategorized licenses.
Some popular open source licenses include the MIT License, Apache License, GNU GPL License, and BSD Licence. These licenses allow software developers to edit the source code with some conditions attached. All programmers are required to include the modified source code if they change it. It is also important to include the methods used to modify the code.
Code modification involves spotting bugs, fixing the identified errors, improving functions, changing the software to meet specific needs, or upgrading the software according to the latest technology. Open source technologies have contributed to the establishment of the internet and most of the applications used today use open source technology.
Many people are using open source applications to perform different tasks such as browsing the internet, chatting, sharing information, doing business, as well as entertainment.
In addition, many of the devices used to perform certain tasks for personal and business purposes use open source software. For example, some operating systems such as Android OS, Apple’s OS X, and Ubuntu are based on open source technology. Some common open source applications include Mozilla Firefox browser, PHP, Python and Apache web server.
Many people (programmers/non-programmers) and companies use this on a daily basis. Also, many mobile devices such as phones and tablets support open source technology so people and businesses must learn how to capitalize on the positive aspects of this technology.
Unlike commercial software, most open source applications are available free of charge and this is good news for start-ups and individuals with no money to purchase proprietary software. In addition to the costs associated with the purchase, usage, and redistribution of software, individuals and companies worry about licences and the issues associated with software. This is a good reason to switch to open source software. The rules are favourable and there are minimal restrictions.
Programmers who focus on commercial software should also consider switching to open source software if they want to collaborate with other programmers from different parts of the world. This is a great way of gaining exposure and learning new tricks as a programmer. In general, open source technologies are playing a significant role in the world of technology so it is difficult to avoid them.
What are the Advantages in using Open Source Software?
Open Source Software has numerous advantages compared to other types of software. Both programmers and non-programmers can benefit from Open Source Software in different ways depending on their needs. Early inventors of the internet relied on open source technologies such as the Apache server and Linux OS and that is why all types of internet users and developers benefit from Open Source Software today.
Many internet users perform different tasks online with the help of their mobile phones, tablets, computers, and gaming consoles that support Open Source Software. They can view websites, chat with other people, share photos, stream videos, play music, read emails, and play video games with other people in different parts of the world.
Different types of Open Source Software have made all these tasks possible. Some cloud computing applications are also open source and many people are using them to perform the aforementioned online tasks. These are the specific benefits of using open source software:
- Easy to obtain – The most obvious advantage of using Open Source Software is that it is easy to obtain, unlike proprietary software. For example, a user can easily obtain, install, and distribute Ubuntu at no cost. It is difficult to do the same with Windows because of the numerous restrictions associated with the operating system. Although Open Source Software does not necessarily mean “free software”, most open source applications are available for free. In addition, Open Source Software is publicly available so it is unlikely to become unavailable.
- Flexibility and control – Many people prefer Open Source Software to other types of software because it is flexible. Open Source Software users have more control over the software. They can check and modify the code according to their needs. For example, Ubuntu users can modify the software if they are not happy with the desktop interface. In contrast, Windows users cannot modify the code because the operating system uses closed source technology. For non-programmers, Open Source Software allows users to use the software in different ways rather than what other people (such as programmers) want them to use it.
- Security – Security is one of the many advantages of Open Source Software because anyone can access and modify the code. Open Source Software developers can identify and fix any bugs or errors omitted by the original developers. Moreover, many programmers can quickly fix errors and update the software without permission from the original developers. These tasks might take a very long time to accomplish when dealing with proprietary software.
- High-quality software –The source code is tested and fixed by many developers and this leads to high-quality applications.
- Easy training for programmers – One of the challenges faced by programmers is the cost of learning. The good news is that students can become better programmers because the source code for Open Source Software is available to everyone. Programming students can also work with other students, share ideas, and correct each other to improve their skills as software developers. Open Source Software also allows inexperienced developers to interact with and learn from experts in the industry.
- Stability – Stability is particularly important for long-term projects and critical tasks that rely on Open Source Software. Users are confident and won’t give up if the original developer stops working on the software.
What are the Disadvantages in using Open Source Software?
Most of the people who prefer Open Source Software to commercial software enjoy the benefits described in the previous section. However, Open Source Software is associated with a number of drawbacks for the end-users (individuals and organizations) and software developers. It is important to acknowledge these disadvantages to help users and programmers know what to expect if they decide to use Open Source Software.
Some of the challenges associated with Open Source Software are also true for commercial software so it is advisable to compare other aspects of the software before making a choice. For example, a user can compare the cost of ownership, hidden costs, installation costs, user training requirements, compatibility with other types of software, and the available support. Other areas of concern for both users and developers include security issues, ease of use, and commercial issues for people who use Open Source Software for commercial purposes. The major drawbacks of Open Source Software include:
- Difficult of use – One of the major challenges experienced by Open Source Software user is the unfriendly user interface and difficult installation processes. Some people are only familiar with popular commercial software and their productivity may diminish if a company introduces new open source applications. For example, it is difficult to learn the Linux operating system in a day so the company might be forced to hire an expert to train users.
- Security issues – Since anyone can edit and distribute Open Source Software, security is a major concern for the ordinary user who cannot spot and fix errors. This freedom allows any software developer including individuals with malicious intentions to exploit software flaws. For example, hackers can take advantage of this freedom to introduce malicious codes that might expose confidential user data and information.
- Lack of commercial focus – Open Source Software developers are likely to ignore the commercial aspect of software because they are not required to develop a commercial product for generating money. They tend to focus on what they want and are likely to forget what the user wants.
- Compatibility issues – Users of Open Source Software may experience problems if the software is not compatible with existing systems. Some applications cannot run on Open Source Software so it is important to carry out a compatibility analysis before installing the software in order to know what is require including the necessary hardware and software. Compatibility issues may lead to extra costs if the system needs new hardware, software or paid experts.
- Lack of support – Open Source Software support comes from a community of users and developers who are expected to fix problems. Many proprietary applications offer better support than open source applications. This is important for customers who want to make calls and get immediate responses when they experience a problem. Such services are difficult to find for people who rely on open source software.
- Hidden costs – Most open source applications are available at no cost, but users may incur some indirect costs. Some of the possible costs include installation costs (such purchasing new software or hardware and paying an expert to configure the system), the cost of training users, the cost of transferring data to a new system, customization costs, and maintenance costs.