The Meaning of Open Source

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Important Note: Deprecated. Moved to Cathedral and Bazaar section of Introduction.

If you've followed the software industry over the past few years, you've probably heard of "open source." The term "open source" is an shortening of "open source code," and refers to the legal status and availability to the programming code that makes up a piece of software. To better understand the meaning of open source software you should first understand how traditional software works. With traditional software the only people who are allowed to look and change the programming code (the "guts" of a program) are the creators and owners of the software. The copyright holders are also the only people allowed to modify the software. In contrast, anyone may look at programming code of open source software and make changes to that coding. Some corporations sponsor open source initiatives, but many projects are started and maintained entirely by volunteers. Although open source software has been around since the 1960's, it has not been until the last ten years that it has been in the mainstream. Probably the most prominent example of open source software is the "Linux" operating system. Linux is actually several different operating systems that run on similar internal parts and is entirely open source. Although Linux has not been adopted widely in home use, it has been used a lot for website hosting and similar tasks.

Open source programs are valuable to OER because of their adaptability and freedom. Open source programs tend to support open formats better and because anyone can view the programming code, they are easier to modify and change to meet new circumstances. Most open source programs are too complicated for the average person, or even those with basic programming skills, to modify and change, but many find reassurance that at least open source software could be changed legally without having to obtain permission or pay a fee. Some in the OER community like to support open source programs because they see philosophical parallels between goals of OER and open source programs.


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Various. "Linux." Wikipedia. Retrieved 21 Mar. 2008 from