Open-source is a development and licensing model for software that allows for free usage, distribution, and modification. In many ways, it is diametrically opposed to the closed-source, proprietary model preferred by many large software companies. The nature of the open-source model nurtures cooperation, a tendency to share knowledge, and a spirit of contributing to the larger community.
Open-source software is the backbone of much of the modern technology infrastructure. Some of the reasons for this are:
- Reliability: Open-source software projects include some of the most powerful digital platforms and tools. Their reliability is the reason they are used by enterprise businesses, scientific researchers, and the military. For example, open-source software provides the majority of cloud computing services and the backbone of the internet, to name just two.
- Security: Because of the 'open' nature of open-source software (meaning anyone can look at, and therefore audit the code) as well as the large number of independent contributors to many key projects, security issues are typically patched much more quickly with open-source software than proprietary software. In addition, the underlying design of Linux is inherently more secure that the leading proprietary OS.
- Continuity: The open-source world has a high degree of continuity and stability. Development isn't driven by giant corporations working to create planed obsolescence in their products in order to force you to constantly purchase upgrades. The focus is actually on stability and continuity, which is why enterprise companies that use Linux and open source rely on these tools to maintain their critical infrastructure (also see “Reliability”).
- Large communities: Because the open-source development process is based on collaboration and sharing knowledge, the communities built around these tools and services share help and knowledge, and share it freely—for troubleshooting, setup issues, or bugs that are encountered. This provides a vast and useful knowledge-base for the software your business depends on.
- Low software costs: Open-source software often has few to no license fees. If you choose, you can contribute to a given software project as a way of giving something back—but this isn't a requirement to use the software.
- Lower hardware costs: Because it's designed to be as efficient, stable, and backwards-compatible as possible, open-source software can utilize much older hardware than almost all current proprietary software solutions. This means you can make use of old servers and workstations (as well as peripherals and printers) that can't run, or aren't compatible with, the latest big-name operating systems—often with better performance.
Notable Examples of Open-Source Software
Many common tools people use everyday are based on open-source, including the majority of web servers and cloud servers. Listed below are some specific examples.
Open-Source in the News
Here are some recent stories about open-source software from around the web:
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