Going Open Source

Posted on June 14, 2006. Filed under: Linux |

This is an article that i wrote for another forum. Absolute newbie stuff. Couldnt resist posting it here šŸ˜‰

p.s: i did it in 1 hr so its bound to be sloppy :p

In this article, i attempt to give a short introduction to open source software.

What is this open source that eveyone is talking about?

Open Source refers to a methodology where the product, its source, processes, etc are made available to the end user. This means that the user will have the ability and means to study, modify, distribute the product. Another major point of open source is that it always remains free. Although open source is evident in many industries, the rest of the article will focus on open source software only.

So you mean to say that open source software is free?

Yes it is. But its also much more than just being “free” . The source code of the s/w will be available too. And this is the basic principle of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The ability of the users to modify the source code to suite their needs, and to distribute the software freely through any means, is what makes it interesting.

There are softwares that are free but not open source. Popular examples would include winamp, bitcomet,utorrent etc which are free, but their source code is not available for the community. These are generally called “closed source” software.

The main ideology behind OSI is that all software should be free. This particularly is useful to under developed countries. The computer revolution is changing lives in a tremendous way. The hardware prices have come down greatly, and is affordable now. But what is the use of a computer if people cannot afford the software that runs on it? For example, a OEM copy of Windows Xp home edition costs around $100, Microsoft office 2003 basic version costs around $180. This is the absolute minimum s/w for a typical home user. Add other essentials like image editing s/w, cd/dvd writing s/w, etc the cost will exceed the actual cost of the hardware. In under developed countries where a basic PC costs under $250, the cost of s/w is just outrageous.

The alternative is to use open source s/w which is free, comes with no hidden charges (obviously, since its free!). Everything from operating system, office applications, media players, ripping/encoding applications, browsers, compilers, image editing tools etc are available in the open source community. They are able replacement to the typical windows/mac apps, if not even better!

The two main guiding points of the OSI are :

1. Software should always remain free.
2. There should be constant improvement in the software.

The way to achieve this is to involve the community in the development of the software, by making the source code available to all. The open source community consists of Full time developers, Contributing developers, volunteers and end users. Since a large, diverse user base is established, constant improvements are made almost everyday and bugs/errors fixed very quickly. This is one major advantage over closed source software, where the end users have to wait for the software concern to fix the bug. Whereas in open source, if a user encounters an error, he has the freedom to fix it if possible, or report it to the community so that it is fixed immediately.

The development of open source s/w is guided by different licenses. The GPL (GNU public lisense), BSD, MIT, etc are a few popular licenses. Every piece of s/w should be bound by a certain license that the developer decides. The license determines the scope of the s/w, how it can be modified/distributed, and a few other regulating principles.

From where does the money come from?

Since many open source s/w are huge in scale (OS like linux/bsd and s/w like apache/php/mysql) most of them have full time developers. And the added costs of hardware, Website maintainance, patent trademark, advertisment etc, make it virtually impossible to run without an assured source of income. This is where major corporations and the donation from the community comes into play. Most of the big players like Red Hat, SUSE, Novell, etc support the OSI. While they do make money out of their corporate linux sales, they also ensure that the open source version of their OS does keep developing. And donations fromt the community is another major source of income.

But isnt open source sofware difficult to use?

In one word “NO”. It is because most of us work only on the windows/mac platform, that we find linux difficult. The learning curve is like any other OS. How many of us got the hang of windows the very first time we used it? and still how many of us know the unlimited hidden settings that windows has? Linux is just like any other OS and with some practise, everyone will find it as easy as windows.

But still there is no disputing the fact that linux isnt entirely GUI driven. The use of the terminal (dos prompt for windows users) is essential to get a few things done. But the commands are in simple english and can be easily learnt, just like DOS commands.

Now that i know something about it, i want to support the open source community. But how?

The best way to help is to start using open source s/w. Try using linux occassionally. There are many flavours of linux specially made for first time users. Even if you want to continue on windows, there are apps like azureus, filezilla, gimp, open office, firefox, etc that are available for windows too. Actively participate in open source forums by asking doubts, contributing articles or how-to’s , helping other newbies like you, submitting bug reports and errors and keeping track of latest developments. This is the best way to get started. And donations wouldnt hurt either.

Main Advantages of using Open Source Software :

1. Free
2. Easily Available.
3. Can be modified to suite the need of the user.
4. Very helpful community.
5. Bugs/errors fixed quickly.
6. Exhaustive documentation available on the internet.

Since Open Source is a vast topic, discussion about each and every aspect is not possible and would be out of the scope of this article. For more information visit the following sites :

OpenSource Organization
Free Software Foundation
Source forge – the largest collection of open source software

I do hope i have covered the important aspects/points. Comments, Criticism, Questions, Suggestions from members always welcome!

P.S : For those who think linux is difficult, this article was typed in Ubuntu linux using openoffice


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