What is Open Source Software?
Open Source Software (OSS) is software that is available under a special license that allows everyone to access the program code as well as the executable program. This means that anyone is able to edit the program code and therefore customise the software for their own needs.
This ability to access the source code is protected by the license under which the software is released. There is a great many Open Source licenses, but they all have one thing in common, they protect the right of the user of the software to access and modify it in any way they desire.
This ability to modify applications is in direct contrast to the Closed Source Software model. In Closed Source only the creator of the application has access to the source code, and therefore, only the creator is able to modify the application.
Being able to change the way an Open Source Software application operates is critical in many business environments. No two businesses are identical and therefore it is unlikely that any one piece of software will satisfy the needs of all potential users. Without the ability to modify their software a company is restricted in its operations by that software.
While it is true that no two businesses are identical, it is also true that there are a great many common business practices that are repeated across organisations. These common practices can be well served by “standard” software. The remaining practices, those that are different from competitors are, typically, the ones that give a business an advantage in the marketplace.
Since these non-standard practices are key to the organisations success it is critical that any software solutions adopted by the company also support these non-standard processes. It is in this need to adapt software to a companies specific needs that makes Open Source Software attractive. Since the company has access to the source, the application can be freely adapted to suit the unique requirements of each user.
Who Pays for Open Source Development?
The ability to customise software is critical to allow an organisation to continue to improve their business processes, but how does a company afford to pay for such customisations?
One of the side effects of allowing any user access to the source code is that the cost of acquiring the software in the first instance is massively reduced. In most cases the source code is available for no cost. This enables the user to divert resources normally allocated to pay software license fees into enhancing the software.
A successful Open Source Software project has a large community of software developers. Many of these developers work as independent contractors and can be employed to customise the software, alternatively, if a company has internal developer resources, they can leverage those skills to perform the customisations.
Does it Really Work?
This all sounds fantastic, but does it really work? Are there Open Source Applications in use in the real world?
Here are a few facts to convince you that it most certainly does work:
- Around 70% of web sites are served by the Open Source Apache HTTPD server.
- In a 2002 survey it was found over 31% of UK and nearly 42% of German companies were using or planning to use OSS.
- In 2001, Debian (an Open Source Operating System), contained over 55 million lines of code and was estimated to have consumed over 14,000 person years in development time. That is a development cost of around 1.89 Billion Dollars (US) yet it is still available with no license fees.