Open source is a concept referring to production and development practices where anyone can access the sources of the end product. Although the concept has been prevalent for a long time, the term ‘open source’ became popular with the spread of the Internet. Open source is a philosophy to some people while it is simply a pragmatic practice for others.
The term open source is most commonly associated with information technology. Developers and producers had other words for the concept before the phrase open source became common. While commercial software companies typically use centralized models of development, the open source method takes a liberal stand. It enables concurrent use of different agendas and approaches.
A Little History
The term ‘open source’ came into acceptance with a debate in 1998 about Netscape’s decision to release the source code for Navigator. The participants expressed their concern over the possibility of confusion and anti-commercial implications of the phrase free software. The participants debated over a few other terms that could be used to avoid the confusion and decided upon ‘open source’ as the new term.
The Open Source Initiative (OSI), an organization that promotes open source software, was formed in 1998. The promoters of OSI had come to favor open source development from their experience of studying case histories of closed development versus open development as seen through the Internet. The OSI presents the benefits of freely available source code to major software and high tech businesses.
A Complete Definition
The OSI website cites a few criteria that the software must comply with, in order for it to be called open source software. These include:
Free redistribution: This means that the open source license does not restrict anyone from selling or supplying the software as a component of a software package with programs from different sources. The license here does not imply royalty or percentage from such a sale.
The program has to include source code. It must also enable distribution in source code and in compiled form. When a part comes without source code, the source code has to be easily available (such as from the Internet) at a reasonable cost.
The license should permit modifications and distribution of modified versions under the same terms as the original software.
The software license should also explicitly allow distribution of software developed using the modified source code. However the license can demand the modified versions to carry a different name or version number.
The license should not hold any kind of discrimination whatsoever against persons, groups or fields of endeavor.
The rights granted with the license should apply equally to everyone to whom the program is redistributed.
The license should not apply only when a particular program is given out as part of a software package. The program license should be available even when it is extracted from the package and distributed in isolation.
The license should not restrict the use of other software being distributed with the licensed software.
The open source license should be neutral to individual technologies and styles of interfaces.
Some Pertinent Questions
However some people are of the view that open source creates problems of a different kind. There is a difference between mere availability of a source code for viewing, and the liberty to use, modify and redistribute it. Developers have since coined expressions like Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) and Free/Libre/Open Source Software to describe open source software that are free to use.
There are also issues like the potential for vulnerability and unethical practices that free source software creates.
Although software is the most visible face of the open source concept, the term has developed into an entire culture with implications in many fields. Diverse fields such as agriculture, medicine, commerce, content, art, government, politics, education and media have adopted the concept in their practices.
At its core, the concept of open source has stood for increased transparency and liberty in all fields. Open source also promotes user innovation. Today, the phrase open source has come to mean that a system is available to anyone who wants to access, use or work on it.