The Benefits of Developing with Open Source Software
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The Benefits of Developing with Open Source Software

When the source code of computer software is accessible, not proprietary, the software is referred to as open source. In proprietary software, the source code – essentially the set of computer instructions written by programmers – is privately owned and its use is restricted. In contrast, open source software allows public access of the source code.

In fact, open source software is developed and documented by a community of programmers from different organizations, even competing companies. Some members of the community may be independent programmers or computer hobbyists. The software is developed and maintained collaboratively by programmers spread across the globe.

By definition, open source software must comply with certain criteria. Its source code cannot be locked away or hidden from view; it must be accessible. This visibility enables programmers to readily study, use, amend and distribute the code. In addition, open source software is made available through a special license that does not require the user to pay fees or royalties.

There are distinct advantages to developing a system using open source software. With access to the source code, a programmer can fine-tune a design to achieve greater speed or better performance. With no fees or royalties associated with open source software, project cost savings can be significant. Open source software grants a developer greater design flexibility and the capacity to customize for any hardware platform. Functions that were impossible with proprietary source code become doable when the source code is accessible.

An example of an open-source software product is Linux, a Unix-like operating system (OS) developed collaboratively and available through public licenses. The whole project began humbly enough as one student’s undertaking at the University of Helsinki and has evolved into a major force in the computer world. Many Linux distributions, or publicly available versions of the operating system, are actively supported.

Another open-source software example is the coreboot free software project, which can replace the proprietary BIOS found in most computers. Two companies that have been instrumental in developing practical, commercially viable coreboot-based applications are semiconductor giant AMD and embedded design expert Sage Electronic Engineering; the coreboot website includes a more complete list of developers.

Without significant technical contributions from the community, an open source software initiative can’t get very far. Success depends on ongoing interest in the initiative by active developers and users. It is the responsibility of each developer to carefully document any changes made to the software so that all users are aware of the latest developments.

There is yet another benefit that comes from the development and usage of open source software: innovation. Thousands of developers from around the world with different backgrounds working on a wide variety of applications can contribute their unique knowledge to improve and expand the software. With so many bright minds working on an open source project, the results are innovative and cutting edge. Open source software is continually being improved by a dedicated global team of skilled programmers, for the benefit of the entire computer community.

Graciela Sholander is a professional writer and ghostwriter. She is the co-author of Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True, available on the Kindle.

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Comments (7)

Valuable post...thanks for the info.

What a useful article, thank-you!

Many thanks, Donata and Christy!

Yes, developing with open source software has been one of the greatest evolutions in computer programming. Just to think of it, the scale of cooperation required is awesome! Well done!

I agree, New Energy -- thank you!

Revisiting your very useful post. Thank you.

Much appreciated, Francois.