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What is open source software?


By Danielle Dunne

(IDG) -- Software runs your computer, but what kind of software does your company use? Do you buy software from a company like Microsoft or do you use open source software? Your organization probably already uses both proprietary software (like the kind from Microsoft) and open source software.

What is open source software?

Open source software is software that is built and enhanced through public collaboration. It is free and it gives the user unrestricted access to the source code. The source code shows how the software works in a language that programmers can understand. INFOCENTER
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In order to use open source software, users must agree to a license, which usually includes the ability to run the program, have the source code, change the source code, and distribute it. When you build something with open source software you have to provide others the opportunity to do the same thing, which is how the software is further developed. Collaboration is also how problems with the software are detected -- glitches are more easily detected when many people look at and use the software. However, open source software can't be put into proprietary licensed software.

What are the alternatives to open source software?

Proprietary software is the more traditional means of providing your company with software. Unlike open source software, it is paid for and does not come with the source code. Companies that develop software, like Microsoft, hire programmers to build and fix their software programs. Microsoft's chief strategist recently sent out a warning against open source software, though the company has decided to give their largest clients access to the Windows 2000 source code -- as long as they don't reuse or modify it.

So, open source means free?

While the software is free, there are other elements that are not free. For instance, corporations must still pay for training and support for open source products. But the cost is still less than using proprietary software. Companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems offer support packages for open source software users.

Why doesn't everyone use open source products?

The concept of open source software is sometimes hard to understand for IT executives who are familiar with traditional ways of buying software. Concerns about support and accountability are valid when thinking about using open source software. But supporters assert that open source is more reliable because problems can be found and fixed quicker.

The success of the Linux operating systems (a version of the Unix operating systems and a free alternative to Microsoft Windows) has improved the reputation and increased the popularity of open source development.

Where did open source come from?

Early in 1998, when Netscape decided to give their browser source code away, a group of technology gurus in Palo Alto, California, got together and decided that free software (which was developing a bad reputation) needed a new name. They coined the term open source. Soon it was part of the industry's vocabulary. There are a range of opinions on the good, the bad and the ugly of open source development. For more on what skeptics and supporters are saying see the related links below.

Microsoft Corp.

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