Open Source Software. What Is It and Is It Worth Trying?

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With the rapid growth of OSS, an open-source software, anyone who'd like to succeed in the IT-sphere should get familiar with this flow and understand what stands behind it. As the name suggests, open-source software is something people can inspect, modify, enhance and share because this software is publicly accessible. Open Source Software. What Is It and Is It Worth Trying? - 1In other words, it's an open-source code that anyone can see, fix bugs, upgrade, and distribute to others. It's usually developed collaboratively, relying on other programmers' reviews and cooperation. And since open-source software is created by communities instead of a single author or a single software company, it is naturally cheaper, more flexible, and, in most cases, has more longevity than its proprietary counterparts.

When It All Began?

If you think that open source is a relatively new movement, you'll be surprised. The roots go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when researchers started developing Internet and telecommunication network protocols. These technologies were based on open and collaborative research, and this principle later became the foundation for the Internet. As for the open-source software as we know it today, it's originated in 1983 when Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT, made source code freely available. He believed that it should be accessible to programmers all across the globe so they could modify and advance it as they wished. His approach took hold and gradually led to the formation of the Open Source Initiative in 1998.

Open Source Software vs Other Types of Software

Below, we're comparing some of the key aspects of open source software and other types of software:

Control

As from above, you may have already guessed that the main difference between OSS and other type software is that its source code is available for just anybody who'd like to view, copy, or modify it. As for the "proprietary" software, only one person or team maintains exclusive control over it. That's why it's also sometimes called "closed source" software that typically requires you to accept a license which requires you to do nothing with the source code. That just being said, open-source software is also usually licensed. However, its legal terms differ drastically from those of proprietary licenses. They give computer users permission to use the software for any purpose they wish. Plus, some open source licenses state that anyone who alters a program or code should also share it with others without charging a licensing fee for it. In other words, they encourage people to distribute their achievements.

Cost

Is "open source" free of charge? Not always. Open-source software programmers may charge some money for the software they create or contribute to. Or, sometimes, they charge money only for software services and support of the software. This way, the software is free, and programmers make money by helping users install or troubleshoot it. Still, compared to proprietary software, this cost is much more affordable.

Security

As we touched on the topic of troubleshooting, it's worth noting that regardless of software type, code flaws still exist. Though the number of bugs is significantly less in OSS since the source code here is open for anyone, therefore "the more eyes on the code, the harder for bugs to survive." Also, there is a difference between who is responsible for fixing the bugs - vendors are responsible for commercial software. At the same time, users are responsible for open-source software.

Design

In terms of design, OSS typically loses some points. Since its policy promotes collaboration and sharing, the emphasis is put on openness rather than user-friendly design. So, basically, for-profit products are more intuitive and simpler to use with adaptability and user experience as the key concerns.

Warranty

Another area where "closed source" software is a winner is warranty terms. It shouldn't come as a surprise that OSS has no warranty at all. In contrast, proprietary software is always backed with a warranty, which is a definite advantage for companies with security policies. However, some open source solutions are extremely popular and are even market leaders nowadays. (e.g., Linux, Apache).

The Most Popular OSS

  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Apache webserver
  • GNU/Linux
  • VLC media player
  • SugarCRM
  • VNC
  • GIMP
  • LibreOffice
  • jQuery

How Does OSS Work?

Actually, just every time you view web pages, check email, stream music, watch a video, play video games, or chat with friends, your PC, gaming console, or mobile device connects to a global network using open-source software to transmit the data to the "local" devices. Who does all that work? The "remote" computersthat are generally located in faraway places (users don't see them and don't have physical access to them). That is to say, people rely on remote computers when performing daily tasks. Some call this process "cloud computing" since it involves different activities (storing files, sharing photos, listening to audio tracks, or watching videos) that incorporate local computers and a global network of remote computers. Some cloud apps, like Google cloud, are proprietary. Whereas others like OpenStack or Nextcloud are open source.

The Main Advantages of Using OSS

Most people prefer open-source software to proprietary one for many reasons: Enhanced Control. If you'd like to get more control over software, OSS is the one you need. You'll be able to examine the code to rest assured knowing it's not doing anything you don't want it to do. Also, you'll be able to change code parts when you find them unnecessary or useless. From this, we can conclude that OSS is perfect for training. Suppose you're just starting your learning path. In that case, open-source software can surely help you sharpen your skills and become a better developer. You'll also be able to share your work with others to let them comment, critique, or praise you. Better Safety. As already mentioned, open-source software is considered more secure as anyone can view and correct mistakes or omissions. And since a limitless number of programmers can work on the same open-source software without asking for permission from the author, they can debug, upgrade, and update software much quicker than proprietary software. Strong Community. It's no wonder that open source projects often unite developers from all corners of the world, leading to meetups and formations of user groups that want to test, use, and promote their products.

Why Even Large Companies Often Use Open Source Software Solutions

Not only average users or programmers stick to OSS solutions. Even large corporations often take advantage of OSS. What's the catch? Affordability. Many companies turn to open source software because they see no reason to spend a fortune on proprietary software. Plus, there will be no additional charges for software maintenance and updates since contributors will provide them for free. High Customizability. As open-source software shares its source code, organizations can always hire a skilled programmer who adapts it to specific needs. No vendor has to be contacted; no extra time is required to wait for the additional features (which sometimes takes forever). Adaptivity. OSS software has an extended scope of application that is not limited to any particular architecture. That's why it has more chances to perform well in different scenarios, even the most complex. Besides these factors, companies also value solid security and better support. However, they should keep in mind that if they get software under an Open Source license, they can freely use that software for commercial purposes. Yet, that doesn't always mean the organizations will be able to place further restrictions on people who will use the software afterward. When the company distributes the software, it must stick to the same license requirements it received it under.

How to Become a Part of Open Source Software

Want to become a part of this fascinating story? Then, you can easily join an open-source project. All skills are welcomed. To do so, you may subscribe to the mailing list on official websites or GitHub pages (you can reach the hottest projects by following the "Trending" link). What is interesting, complete newbies or even non-programmers can be very helpful for OSS projects too. By writing, updating, translating documentation, or just replying to questions and guiding newcomers, you'll already make a great contribution. As for the Java beginners, they can fork projects, make changes to code, and send pull requests when needed. Quality assistance and assurance are always appreciated!

Conclusion

As you see, open-source software projects may bring numerous benefits to both participants and users. Not only any OSS experience will be great for your CV, but also you'll be able to hone skills by collaborating with like-minded people. A real win-win! Open Source Software. What Is It and Is It Worth Trying? - 2
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carlos oliveira Level 10, Seattle, United States
27 December 2021
Very intertesting! thanks.