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Open Source Software : An Overview

When modern era start-up or an entrepreneur situated in a small town in Asia or Europe, comes up with some disruptive idea, prototyping or implementation almost always relays on a freely available software platform that ensures reliability as well as commercial viability of the project. This free sourcing of software, known as Open Source, is a product designed, developed and improved by passionate unknown workers spread across the world on daily basis. In Open Source Software (OSS), the source code is made available to the user and the copyright holder provides free license rights to an anonymous entity for any purpose. People using OSS can distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose, because the Open-source software is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner.

It all started around the 1990s when Microsoft was the king of OS in any computer system. To provide an alternative, Linus Torvalds, a software engineer at Helsinki (Finland) has worked on an OS and sought help from fellow technologists to make it perfect. This was a start of Linux, the first Open Source software. Today, you name the field and you will have an Open Source platform available for it. Check following list, just to get a glimpse.


Open source software is distributed under a variety of licensing terms, but almost all have two things in common: the software can be used without paying a license fee, and anyone can modify the software to add capabilities not envisaged by its originators. A standard is a technology specification whose details are made widely available, allowing many companies to create products that will work interchangeably and be compatible with each other. Any modern technology product relies on thousands of standards in its design — even the gasoline you put in your car is blended to meet several highly-detailed specifications that the car’s designers rely on.

For a standard to be considered an open standard, the specification and rights to implement it must be freely available to anyone without signing non-disclosure agreements or paying royalties. The best example of open standards at work is the Internet — virtually all of the technical specifications it depends on are open, as is the process for defining new ones.

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a feature of a software application that allows other software to inter-operate with it, automatically invoking its functionality and exchanging data with it. The definition of an API is a form of technology standard. The common theme of “openness” in the above definitions is the ability of diverse parties to create technology that interoperates. When evaluating your organization’s current and anticipated software needs, consider a solution’s capability to interoperate as an important criterion. To extend the value of your technology investment, select a software solution that is based on open standards and APIs that facilitate interoperability and has the capability for direct integration between various vendors’ products.

The top six reasons why individuals or organizations choose open source software are:

1) Lower cost
2) Security
3) No vendor 'lock-in'
4) Better quality
5) Transparency
6) Interoperability


Although many of the characteristics of open source versus proprietary software packages clearly set them far apart, they also share several features too. The idea that proprietary and open source solutions are polar opposites is certainly not true. Software vendors have built proprietary solutions that they have later released as open source. Similarly, there are distributors of license-free, open source packages who also offer a for-profit, licensed and a proprietary version built upon the original open source platform.

It might be easier to think of open source and closed source as simply distinct software development methodologies that naturally create their own contexts of interaction based on their underlying philosophies. But one must admit that the advent of open source software has kept the proprietary software developers on the edge of their seats. In a bid to outdo each other, the end user is getting a quality driven outcome.

What is interesting to note is that both proprietary and open source software have their limitations in certain areas. The choice of the right approach can better be gauged from the following pros and cons of each:

Project Size – The size of the project is undoubtedly one of the critical parameters on which the balance should sway in favor of either of these approaches. It is argued that the use of open source software loses the race as the project size and scale expands exponentially.

Cost – Cash-starved start-ups, small and medium businesses show a natural inclination toward open source software because of cost concerns. Licensing costs are one of the major reasons customers shy away from proprietary software. Be wary of the fact that while open source is free to download, oftentimes the costs associated with configuring it for optimal use can race past initial estimates.

Community Code Review – Open source software draws its strengths from its large community of software engineers which contribute to the project. This global community code review attribute is what adds to the increase in the number of features. The speed at which innovation happens in the open source community is far larger in comparison to proprietary software.

Product Support – When using proprietary software, help is just a click or a phone call away. This is not the case with open source software solutions as most queries are responded to via forums, which can take time. Contradictions often arise as there is no single point of contact in most cases to resolve user queries. In addition, elaborate documentation manuals provided by proprietary software make them a clear favorite over open source software.

In the end, the right choice of the software platform boils down to the present needs of your organization. Digital disruption is the norm in today's tech-centric era. Within the technology space, open source is now pervasive and will be the driving force behind most of the technology innovations.

Which open source trends and technologies would you foresee in coming years?