What is open source software

By George Garza
Info Guru,

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Collaboration is the key to open source software
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If you are a word processor user, you probably don't care about the program coding that goes into make the word processor work. Most of us don't.

However, if you are a software developer you do care. And it's nice to build on top of the work that someone else has done; sort of don't re-invent the wheel thinking. That is the philosophy behind open-source software.

What Is Open-Source Software?

What is open-source software? Open-source Software is software where the underlying programming code is available to the users so that they may read it, make changes to it and build new versions of the software incorporating their changes legally. In contrast, proprietary software is private and you could get into legal trouble if you reverse engineer the software to see what makes it tick. All Microsoft software is proprietary.


One type of open-source software is freeware. These are free programs created through the collaboration of programmers from around the world. Why would a programmer make something available to the public that is free? Sometimes it is for marketing purposes. They may offer a stripped-down version of the software promising updates and advanced features with the commercial version. And don't forget that sometimes they just want to develop an alternative program so that Microsoft does not completely monopolize the software industry.

One good alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite is Open Office. This software is free and is open-source. It has most of the capabilities of Office, like Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Access. Download the software at

The Open-Source License

The free software movement began in 1983. But by 1998, some programmers wanted the term free software to be replaced by open-source software (OSS). This term is less ambiguous and more comfortable for the corporate world. This means that software developers may want to publish their software with an open-source software license so that anybody may also develop the same software or understand how it works.

Some of the features of the open-source license are that in general anybody can make a new version of the software, port it to new operating systems (this was a big deal because many times a Windows program would not work on a Linux platform, or vice versa) and processor architectures, share it with others or market it. The aim of open-source is to let the product be more modifiable, understandable, reliable or simply accessible and still be marketable.

Types of Open Source Licenses

There are many types of open-source software licenses. They differ mainly in the licensing term under which altered copies of the source code may (or must be) redistributed. A complete list of the open source licenses can be found at the Open Source website. From the consumer/user point-of-view, open-source is free software, and the license comes with the software but you will not have any restrictions associated with the software.

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