Open Source. It’s a term that’s been thrown around the web a lot lately. But what does it mean? Who uses it? Find out with this comprehensive guide from DoubleGeek.
Open Source: The Definition
According to Dictionary.com, the term “open source” means:
This basically means that an app’s “source code,” instructions that tell the app what to do and when to do it, is freely available to the public, to download, modify or basically do whatever they feel like with it. If you aren’t “contributing” to an app’s source code, you normally need to copy or “fork” the code.
Basically, open source means that the source code of an app can be distributed and/or copied by anyone who gets the urge. By using open source software, you’re joining a huge family, who copy, distribute and share their code and that of others with each other.
Huge Family? Sharing? You guys are hippies.
Oh no we aren’t. Although it sounds like we’re hippies who would be sitting around a fire singing Kumbaya had we not discovered computers, we’re actually not that bad. Are you one of the 30% of Interneters who use Mozilla Firefox? You’re using open source software. One of the 60% who uses Google Chrome? Chrome is heavily based on Chromium, Google’s open source browser engine. Are you one of the 86% of smartphoners who use Android? Yup, you use open source software too.
You see? If not for open source software, we wouldn’t have loads of the tech we rely on today. Some of you may remember Sun Microsystems, who, back in the day, were some of the greatest developers on earth. They pioneered open source software, some of their most well-known projects including MySQL, OpenOffice and Solaris. The first two were forked when Sun was bought by Oracle, but Solaris, in the deep regions of the web, still exists.
If you want more modern examples, how about this? If not for open source, we wouldn’t have the Swiss Army Knife of media, VLC. We wouldn’t have WordPress, which currently powers 28% of the web, including DoubleGeek and we wouldn’t have Linux, which, while not overly popular on PCs, powers at least 90% of servers. But by far, Android is the biggest impact open source software has had on the world.
Fine, you’re not hippies. But I still don’t care.
Well, you should. You know Microsoft Office? And Office 365’s enormous annual subscription fee? Well, you can get all that for free. It’s called LibreOffice. Want Windows 10 but missed the free upgrade? Done. Welcome to Linux. Oh, need something like Adobe Fireworks for your job? Inkscape’s got your back. How about Photoshop, to rid your holiday pics of photobombers? GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is there for you.
See, that’s the beauty of open source software. If you don’t have the money for something, there’s bound to be an open source app to do the job. With exceptions, open source software is free, because what’s the point of making you pay for something if you can get the source code for free? Red Hat open-sourced their RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and insisted you pay $30 for it, but the community said “no, we’re not paying,” and forked it into CentOS.
You should also care about open source because it’s safer. How do you know AutoCAD isn’t spying on your every move? You know FreeCAD isn’t because anybody could look at the source code and say, “Hey wait a sec! This thing’s tracking us!” Then either the person could fork FreeCAD and remove the tracking code, or they could just tell the world, and everyone would go somewhere else. But you don’t know AutoCAD isn’t doing this because not just anyone can get to the source code.
The biggest reason to care, though, is community. Everybody here is like a huge community. Taking Mozilla, one of the greatest not-for-profit organisations, they have an amazing community philosophy. Becoming a Mozilla contributor? Great! You’ll get T-shirts, mugs and all sorts of other cool stuff. Plus, you get to go to events like this:
Woah. That pic sold me. How do I start?
I’m glad you asked. If you want to contribute to Mozilla’s code, you can go to MDN (Mozilla Development Network) homepage. If you’re not really a programmer, you can learn how to get started with this article on opensource.com. For anywhere else, I can’t really say. I would advise, however, that you go to the homepage of the project and search for a “contribute” button. When you find one, click it. Good luck.
So there. There we are. You now know what open source software is, why it matters and that the people who develop it aren’t hippies. You also know how to contribute to open source projects, and hopefully that you want to do so.