Open source technology is essentially any technology, whether it be software or hardware, that is freely distributed to the general public in order to be inspected, modified and enhanced (Open source). Because it is available to anyone and everyone, the released software or hardware can be rapidly developed into a dynamic, finished product. Of course, most of these technologies cannot be sold, but that is the beauty of it. Being able to share and develop both software and hardware without having to worry about licensing or money is what convinces millions of programmers and many big businesses to use open source. It is the epitome of freedom.
Open source technology allows users to do what owners of proprietary software cannot. Open source programs are not restricted by strict licensing agreements forbidding users from tampering with the code but instead encourage it. This ease of access to the source code of so many useful applications allows for a learning experience. Students can learn how specific code causes bugs and how to write code to fix them. It also goes beyond just learning a coding language, but it extends to using that language in order to develop the program itself. Therefore, the ability to find and fiddle with the skeletal code of a program is MUCH more helpful than simply learning the rules of a specific language.
If not used for study, open source tech can be used to replace proprietary products. Because the source code is readily available, viable alternatives to famous products have been created. Take into consideration BRL-CAD, an open-source alternative to Autodesk’s AutoCAD software. BRL-CAD is used by the military and for automotive, aeronautical, medical and a host of other purposes. The software has been around for many years and has been used to design military vehicles and equipment. Although open-source tech may not be developed by an esteemed company, it is built by people who care.
Open source programs extend further than just being developed and teaching-friendly; they give users much more control over the program. In case a program does not have the function needed, a programmer can easily manipulate the code and add the function. Likewise, if a program begins to malfunction, the code can easily be analysed and edited to get rid of the problem. These are things that cannot be easily done with closed source programs.
One of the final, most defining characteristics of open source hardware and programs is their stability. Since the technology is not supported by a company in control of their features and use, open source tech can have an incredibly long life span. If people decide that a piece of open source equipment or software is worth tinkering with, the program will live on and keep getting updated. Remember BRL-CAD? That program was declared open-source and used by the U.S. military in 1975 yet it is still in use today, updated with even more functions. And because these applications and devices are continuously updated by their user communities, they have heightened security. Any possible security breach or bug is squashed by one experienced user or another, leaving a safe, secure program to be used by all.
These open source programs are not limited either. They range from designing softwares to large, advanced games. Though the programs and devices take time to develop and finally reach a level of professionalism, they are abundant. A few of these have already become famous. Hardware like Arduino and Raspberry Pi allow users to create and control their own robots while others like Panda board and GHI FEZ modules allow for different ways of interacting with computers. Similarly, famous open source software programs also exist. Programs like GitHub and OpenCV promote user collaboration. MySQL and php BB allow users to work together to create databases and Ubuntu is a viable open source operating system alternative to either Microsoft’s or Apple’s. Apache is very old software that was initially used to program the remote computers that power today’s computer networks while Word press is a more modern method of building a free, new website or blog. Some of these, as you may have noticed, are incredibly famous and others, used in many big businesses. They are used because they are kept updated and secure. They are also flexible.
That’s what it mainly comes down to. The flexibility that these open source technologies provide for users is unparalleled. The reason this tech is important is that it is powered by the people that use it, and in a world that is run by humans, we have the power to control and manipulate anything. With open source programs and hardware, walls previously built by license agreements and large corporations are broken down and replaced with gateways to the future.
What is open source? (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2016, from https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source
– Karthik Puravant