What is Open Source Software?

In the world of software, understanding what “open source” really means is important. Not only does open source software continue to change the digital landscape we all operate in, but it also creates an online dynamic between it and other “closed source” software. Knowing why the two different types continue to exist, and why more and more developers are moving towards an entirely open-source future, will help you better navigate the digital world, whether you’re building in it or simply enjoying it.

By definition, open-source software means that any user has access to its source code, which is the code build by programmers to manipulate and modify the way the software works. This allows for endless modifications, analysis, improvements, and the ability to share as many copies as you want without needing to purchase. Because there are zero licensing fees or software restrictions, open-source software programs can be used by anyone — and however they want.

There is also something known as a “copyleft” license for open-source software. This type of license, while still allowing for the open-source nature of a program, requires that anyone that makes a change to the source code publish the new source code so that the evolution can continue. The reason for this is so that all versions of the original open-source software continue to be open-source for anyone who wants them.

Unlike open-source software, closed-source software comes with a license, which specifies various restrictions. This license is usually made explicit when the software is opened for the first time, asking the user to agree that they won’t make changes to the program. Closed-source software also keeps its source code private, which means only the programmers who have actually developed the software originally have access to it. And, if the code is somehow hacked or discovered, the original creators maintain exclusive proprietary control. One of the most used pieces of closed-software is Microsoft Windows, while Firefox, Linux, and Android are all examples of popular open-source software.

One of the main reasons why there has been a shift towards more open-source programs is that they allow for endless adaptations and education. By sharing the source code, developers and programmers around the world have the opportunity to learn, creating new iterations of the software that enhance the overall experience. But, while the practical benefits of open-source are big, opponents of the movement argue about intellectual property (IP) and the actual need to let the whole world see, and potentially change, something that they have created.

That viewpoint, however, is becoming less and less prevalent in today’s world — and not just online. The “open-source mindset”, or “open source way”, is encouraging people to share and collaborate on a variety of initiatives. In doing so, a whole new level of transparency and global community is emerging, creating many of the answers and solutions to some of the world’s biggest issues.

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