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An Introduction to Open Source Technology

written by: John Garger•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/9/2010

One of the most misunderstood terms of the information age is open source technology. Read this article to explore a definition and some basic concepts behind open source technology.

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    Open source technology is an often-misused term; too often, users often think open source is synonymous with free. With the relatively recent rise of the Internet’s influence on production and development of software, open source has become a popular vehicle to obtain widespread use and support of some very popular software titles. In this article, we'll discuss a definition of open source technology and its relationship with software such as the Linux operating system.

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    A Definition of Open Source

    Open source technology is defined as the production and development philosophy of allowing end users and developers to not only see the source code of software, but modify it as well. The Linux operating system is a one of the best-known examples of open source software technology.

    The Linux operating system’s open source paradigm is in direct contrast to Microsoft’s approach to development and production of its popular Windows operating system. Unlike Linux, Windows is built on a closed source paradigm that does not allow the end user the ability to see or edit the code that makes up the operating system. In fact, certain aspects of the end-user license for the Windows operating system specifically forbids the end user from attempting to view or modify the code that makes up the software. Such attempts are often known as reverse engineering or reverse compiling.

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    How Open Source Works

    Although software is not the only product governed by a open source licenses, it is the most popular, lending itself well to manipulation of its code and add-ons. Open source provides a transparent platform upon which anyone with the skills to do so can add to the development and production of the software either for release as a new incarnation of the software for others to use or for strictly in-house development only.

    One issue that has come up repeatedly in open source has to do with the copyrights assigned to the original software and any modifications made to it. As outlined in most open source license agreements, ownership of the software can never transfer to anyone who modifies the software. This usually makes it impossible for a developer to take open source software, modify it, and then sell it.

    Most money made from open source software comes in the form of support for the software technology and its many additions, add-ons, and modifications that often ensue. Although most open source software is available to download free, license remains with the original creator of the software and does not transfer to anyone regardless of any modifications, improvements, or add-ons made to the open source software. Although free to download, the software is not free in the sense that the end user can do whatever he/she wants to it including selling it.

    Open source technology has spawned an open source culture among programmers and developers who embrace the open source philosophy. Many open source initiatives begin to spite the large corporations who dominate the markets with expensive, complicated, and over-commercialized software. In fact, many Linux developers are committed to producing software that rivals or even surpasses the flexibility and compatibility of such software giants as Microsoft, Apple, and IBM.

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    Conclusion

    Although open source software is often free to download and use, open source licenses rarely transfer any ownership of the software to the end user or developer. Open source is not limited to software. Open source philosophies have been applied to everything from medicine to soft drink formulas. The result is higher commitment and even cult status among the developers and users of open source technologies. For more on open source, read the second article in this series that discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using and developing open source technologies.

Open Source Technology Definition, Advantages, and Disadvantages

In the first article of this series, learn a definition for open source technology and explore some of its more important features. The second article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of open source technology.
  1. An Introduction to Open Source Technology
  2. What are the Pros and Cons of Open Source?