What Is Open Source Software and What Does OSS Mean?

If you are an avid user of the internet, and have searched for free software on the web, chances are you’ve come across the term “open source.” Today, there is an abundance of open source software available on the internet. So much so, in fact that we often take it for granted.

But it wasn’t always this way.

While the term may be self-explanatory to some, it is still important to understand the term, its history, and what open source software (OSS) truly means. This article help you define OSS better.

What Is Open Source Software (OSS)?

Traditionally, most of the software used for commercial purposes is closed-source. This essentially means that the code using which it was made, i.e. the source code, is solely in the hands of the company that made the software. Average users like us cannot access the code, nor can we make any changes to it whatsoever. Open-source software, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of this.

At its very core, to classify a software as open source, its source code must be freely available to the public. The source code is usually made available in the form of a free download through the software’s official website, or through platforms like GitHub.

Related: What Is GitHub? An Introduction

Apart from this, there are many other prerequisites for a software to be labeled as open source.

What Makes Software Open Source?

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) outlines various conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for a software to be truly open source software. Some of the conditions that must be met are listed below.

  1. A Freely Available Source Code: As highlighted earlier, the source code of the software in question should be publicly available.
  2. Redistribution: One of the most important conditions is that the software should be free to redistribute. That means you can share a copy of any open source software with your friends, and doing so will not infringe any legal terms and conditions.
  3. Modification: In addition to redistributing the software, you are free to modify the source code as you see fit—and distribute your own versions of the software. Users can also create completely different software using the source code if this is what they desire.
  4. No Discrimination: The OSI places huge importance on a no-discrimination policy when it comes to open source software. Essentially, there should be no discrimination  against any particular person, or any group of people. There should also be no discrimination when it comes to how people choose to make use of the program—you can use it in any field you want.
  5. The License: According to the OSI, open source software should not have to be part of a particular software distribution in order for users to enjoy the rights. All users, regardless of how they get the software, enjoy the same rights. Additionally, the license should not impose any conditions on other software being distributed through the same medium.

Related: How to Create Your Own Software License Agreement

The Difference Between Open Source and Closed Source Software

The aforementioned sections go into detail as to what makes a software open source. However, there are various other factors that separate open source and proprietary software:

Category Open Source Software Proprietary Software
Source Code Freely available for everyone to download and modify as they see fit. The source code is not available to anyone except the creators of the software.
Testing The software is developed in an open manner and the end users usually help in fine-tuning it. Proprietary software goes through various stages of in-house testing in the company. The public is not involved at all.
Cost Open-source software is free to use for organizations as well as individuals. Companies usually charge money for proprietary software. This could be in the form of a subscription or a one time payment.
Installation OSS can be installed on as many computers as you wish. Proprietary software companies usually offer a single license key that can only be activated once.
Patches Since the community and developers work together, bug fixes are actually released quicker. The users find creative ways of tackling various errors. In this case, a single organization or group of developers is responsible for the upkeep of the software. Users can only report bugs but can’t do anything to solve them.

Another commonly talked about differentiating factor between open source and proprietary software is security.

Related: Just How Secure Is Open-Source Software?

Where Did the Term “Open Source” Originate?

There were multiple people who are credited with catapulting the concept of open source software to the crowds. Notably, Richard Stallman, an MIT student who strongly advocated for open source development, launched GNU in 1983.

In a nutshell, GNU is a huge collection of free to use software that can be modified by anyone. Through the use of GNU, one of the most popular operating systems in the world, Linux, was born.

Stallman was also the founder of the Free Software Movement (FSF). Naturally, the FSF became a social movement that promoted open collaboration among developers and also encouraged them to create free software under the GNU General Public License.

Related: Why Hardly Anyone Calls Linux “GNU/Linux”

However, the most significant event in the open source movement is Netscape’s decision to make the Netscape Communicator—a set of internet applications—available for free in the 1990s. This was a big deal because Netscape Navigator was the most widely used web browser during the time. Additionally, the source code was what led to the creation of Mozilla Firefox.

Netscape’s decision was the beginning of the snowball effect when it comes to open source software as shortly afterwards, on February 3, 1998, the term open source was coined. This happened during a meeting in Palo Alto, California. A little later, the organization known as Open Source Initiative (OSI) was conceived with the mission of educating the masses about open source software and its advantages.

Open Source: An Important Part of the Software World

So, now you know what open source software means.

As is evident, the open source movement and OSS in general shaped the current landscape of technology. Nowadays, most of us use one form of open source software without even realizing it. Be it Android, Linux, or even VLC Media Player, life wouldn’t be the same without open source software.

Author: Manuviraj Godara

Source: Manuviraj Godara.” What Is Open Source Software and What Does OSS Mean?”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-open-source/

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