Open source. Once a technical term known only in computer programming circles, it has slowly entered the mainstream lexicon. But what is it exactly? With open-ended terms like hardware and software (not to mention even more technical concepts like kernels or Java code), it is difficult to wrap your head around it. Yet you are more familiar with it than you think.
This leads to the definition of this term, especially as it evolved since its inception. In general, anything open source simply means the design is available to everyone (which also allows for anyone to share or modify it as they see fit.) Open source has come to designate a set of values as well. These include open collaboration, development of code amongst a public community, and a sense of urgency in distributing platforms.
Following are three platforms that demonstrate these definitions. Additionally, they illustrate the capabilities, as well as applications, of open source projects:
- Linux – Often touted as the alternative OS to Microsoft, Linux has a long and complex history which began in 1991. In its early days, it was difficult to use and was primarily used by programmers. These users developed it throughout the years, gradually making it easier to learn. The debate over Windows versus Linux still rages today: Linux enthusiasts love that it is free, highly customizable, and extremely secure. Windows lovers cite that Linux's incompatibility with graphics drivers and programs (such as Photoshop) make it impractical.
- Kodi (XBMC) – Kodi began life as part of the Xbox gaming system. Originally, it was a media center allowing users to add their own programs. It became so popular it migrated off the Xbox to Windows, Linux, and even current streaming sticks. Kodi has gained fame for its effectiveness in streaming internet content to a TV and the ongoing development of numerous add-ons by its users. While hardly a simple plug and play program, the learning curve is not steep, as demonstrated by its growing popularity.
- WordPress – Anyone involved with blogging has heard of WordPress, with good reason, as it transformed the industry. Thousands have launched their careers on this platform, citing its flexibility and ease of use. Since its initial release in 2003, developers and users have consistently worked together to refine the platform. This has resulted in users being able to easily create blogs, customize them to their liking, and provide feedback toward improving the platform. Familiarizing yourself with WordPress takes time (like most open source software), but anyone computer-literate will easily adapt.
Open source is an integral part of the history of computers. The development of the Internet was possible because of it, as well as huge enterprises like Google and GitHub. This technology offers amazing software for free and leads to the creation of cutting-edge programs. Open source is not perfect, however; many projects get abandoned due to lack of funds, troubleshooting support for a given program is often nonexistent, and becoming proficient is time-consuming.
Open source software and platforms continue to have huge potential despite this. When it comes to deciding whether to use an established fee-based platform or an open source one, don't buy into the binary debate. Research all options, try the different versions, determine requirements needed and then decide for yourself. This methodology lies at the heart of open source and is a major reason why proponents continue to fight for its survival.