Open-Source Basics

Open-source software is important not only to developers but also to end users. Open-source software opens the door (sorry) for users to many freedoms and opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Open-source software is defined as software code that is available to its users such that the users can modify and use the source code as they wish and, more importantly, distribute their own versions of the software free of restrictions or costly licensing fees. The Open Source Initiative sets forth the following criteria, all of which must be met in order for software to meet its standard as open-source:

 

-Free Redistribution. No restrictions on any party regarding sale or distribution.

-Source Code. Program must include the source code and allow for distribution of the source code.

-Derivative Works. The license must allow for modification and derivative works. These works must be allowed to be distributed according to the same terms as the original software.

Integrity of Author’s Source Code. The license can restrict source code from being distributed in modified form only if certain criteria are met.

No Discrimination. The license may not discriminate against any person, group, or field.

Distribution of License. Rights attached to the program must apply to every user without the need for additional license agreements.

Not Product Specific. The license must be attached to the program and may not depend on the program being included as a part of the software distribution.

No Restrictions on Other Software. The license cannot impose restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software.

Technology-Neutral. May not be predicated on any individual technology or interface.

 

While most open-source software is available free of charge, developers are permitted to charge for copies if the developer allows redistribution of the software and source code.

 

Common Open-Source Licenses

There are several different categories of open-source software. The most common classification system differentiates them based on the different licenses used by the open-source software. The GNU General Public License (the “GPL”) is a very common license. The GPL is widely used by Linux users and developers. The GPL incorporates the above requirements into its open-source license and adds the requirement that developers must distribute the source code for any modified or derivative works. This forecloses the possibility that a developer could modify the open-source code to create a “closed-source” program. Another license is the BSD license. Many view the BSD license as placing less restrictions on developers as a developer can modify the open-source code and create a “closed-source” program. Under the BSD license, a developer would not be required to distribute the source code for the closed-source modification. Other open-source licenses include Affero GNU Public license, Apache Software License, MIT license, the Common Development and Distribution License, and the Mozilla Public License.

 

Benefits of Open-Source Software

Key benefits of open-source software include the availability of free software that can be openly and freely modified and redistributed. These benefits can be especially useful when setting up clusters of servers. Open-source software is much more flexible and customizable as compared to Microsoft Windows. Users and developers ultimately have more options when using open-source software, allowing them to customize features and create their own software for unique applications. Increased security and accountability are also considered significant benefits of open-source software.

 

The Open Source Initiative

The Open Source Initiative (the “OSI”) is a public benefit corporation based in California which seeks to promote and raise awareness for the value of open-source software. The OSI seeks to maintain a consistent definition and standard of what open-source software is. Further, the OSI reviews and approves licenses for open-source software, ensuring the licenses meet its standards. The OSI seeks to bridge the gaps in the open-source community in order to bring more unity and consistency to the open-source software community. Ultimately, the OSI seeks to promote open-source’s key attributes including higher qualify software, better reliability, greater flexibility, and lower costs.