What Is Open Source Software? (Benefits And Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 28 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Open source software (OSS) is accessible to anyone who wants to view, modify or distribute it. Open source applications can enhance collaboration, efficiency and security. Knowing about OSS can help you find software that meets your needs and has the functionality you require. In this article, we discuss what open source software is, list a few examples, understand its benefits and find out how corporations can effectively use it for their benefit.

What is open source software?

By understanding "What is open source software?" you can better appreciate its advantages and learn how to use it in your project. The idea of open source software is to allow anyone to use, study, change and distribute it. Community members often release new iterations of the software that have improved features or fix bugs through open source collaboration. Programmers can modify the code of an application or program to change its functionality based on use-cases.

In most cases, developers release OSS under a license that enables users to modify it or use it for different purposes based on their requirements and distribute it across multiple computers. Students, individuals, businesses and government agencies can use this software.

Related: What Is Software Development? A Complete Guide

Why is open source software important?

The following reasons make open source software important:

  • Since the initial cost is zero or negligible, developers can utilise the codebase and build their own applications. This can save them a lot of money and time.

  • As open source projects are accessible to everyone, they benefit from continuous improvement by developers around the world.

  • Developers build open source based on the principle of flexibility. The license for the project allows developers to modify the source code conveniently. Software that is proprietary has limitations and may not allow for any modifications.

  • Finding and patching vulnerabilities are much quicker and more efficient in OSS.

  • Open source projects emphasise community, collaboration and transparency for the mutual benefit of the users and the platform.

Differences between open source and closed source software

Some differences between open source software and closed source software as are follows:

Pricing

In many cases, open source software is free to use. Sometimes, OSS may incur some costs for features, additional services and added functionality, but these are minimal. Closed source software carries a cost. This cost varies depending on how complex the software is. Companies offer free trials to convince potential buyers that their software meets their needs.

Security

The question of security is controversial because each piece of software has both positive and negative aspects. Unlike proprietary software, open source software is available for anyone to view, share, modify and test. Upon release, the developers focus on fixing all bugs, checking the code thoroughly and performing rigorous testing before committing it to the repository. Since the source code is available to the public, hackers also have access to it.

Closed source software, on the other hand, can only be fixed by the vendor. The support team receives a support request to resolve the issue. This can increase the turnaround time of the project. Due to its public access and high security, this software is less vulnerable to exploitation.

Related: How Much Does Cyber Security Make? (With Skills And Types)

Source code availability

A major advantage of open source software is the ability to change the source code without any restrictions. A user community allows users to create what they want while benefiting from the innovation developed by others. Having access to the source code allows software developers to improve an existing program. Because of the inaccessibility of the source code, closed-source software is more restricted than OSS.

Support and assistance

Closed source software includes the option of contacting support and getting the issued resolved within a few business days. It includes a detailed and documented response. In case of OSS, there is no direct support available; forums, articles and experts are some alternatives. As a result, there might be a delay in resolving the issue.

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User guide and documentation

Users might find it challenging to understand OSS user guides, as they are usually written for developers. In many cases, these user guides do not follow the standard guidelines or structures. The documentation for closed source software includes detailed instructions and is well-written, making it much easier to understand.

Open source licenses

The open source license allows users to use OSS for any purpose they see fit. Users can employ, evaluate, change and release software according to license agreements. The terms of copyleft license stipulate that users share their source code alongside their version of the program in exchange for the free use of the program. Other licenses prevent programmers from charging licensing fees on the versions of the software they develop.

Some popular licenses include:

  • MIT license

  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0

  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0

  • BSD License 2.0

  • Unilicense

Related: How Much Does A Linux System Administrator Make?

Examples of open source software

Open source software offerings include the following:

  • LibreOffice: LibreOffice is a free and open source software suite that supports applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, flow charts and databases.

  • GIMP: With GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) you can manipulate and edit images, create free-form drawings, transcode images between different file formats and perform other similar tasks.

  • jQuery: jQuery is a fast, concise JavaScript library that simplifies navigation through HTML documents, handling of events, implementing animations and building responsive websites and apps.

  • WordPress: WordPress is an open source content management system with customised themes, plug-ins and accessible features. The plug-in architecture provides a system for supporting bundles that enhance program functionality.

  • Linux operating system: Linux is one of the most widely adopted operating systems in the world. Numerous supercomputers, mainframes and servers run Linux.

  • VLC media player: VLC is an open source media player and streaming server. It can run on a variety of platforms and operating systems.

  • Apache web server application: Apache is a free and open source web server platform. Using the server, you can store and process data, process requests and serve web assets in an easily accessible format.

  • Mozilla Firefox: Firefox is an open source web browser that displays web pages by utilising the Gecko rendering engine, another open source program.

Related: jQuery Interview Questions And Answers: General And Expert Level

What are the benefits of using open source software?

Open source software has several benefits:

Mass adoption

A large number of students, developers, small businesses and governments prefer open source software because of its flexibility, community support, innovation and cost-effectiveness. In recent years, OSS has also achieved reliability, scalability and security, making it a good choice. This has led to increased community support, documentation, regular fixes and other improvements.

Community support

Users can change and incorporate Open source software into their own projects. By increasing the functionality of a program, many users can benefit from it and this can foster collaboration. The open source software community comprises people who develop, test, promote and use open source software. Sometimes community members collaborate on software versions by forming groups and arranging meet-ups.

Innovation

Using Open source software and technology can accelerate innovation by enabling collaboration, growth and the exchange of ideas. It encourages developers and experts from across the globe to collaborate, build and solve challenging problems. Open source ecosystems form the foundation for many recent innovations in the tech industry, including blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data. This can help in continuous enhancement and improvement of the product. As a result, the community can continuously enhance and improve the product.

Effective training tool

Due to its accessibility, OSS is a valuable resource for people learning to program. The code is available for programmers to study and learn how to design their own programs. Additionally, sharing their work with others and receiving feedback can help them improve their skills. Programmers with more experience can assist learners by pointing out bugs and helping to fix errors so that others can learn from them. A number of forums are available where people can ask questions and receive expert advice.

Open source software for corporations

Using Open source software can benefit corporations, as it offers more benefits than proprietary software from third parties, such as cost reduction, flexibility, scalability and latest technological advancement. Open source ecosystems have been beneficial to the development of recent innovations, including cloud computing, big data, blockchain and artificial intelligence. In Enterprise Open Source, businesses can get additional features to maximise enterprise performance at a minimal cost.

During a security breach, open source developers are not legally liable for the security and there may be significant delays in providing security patches. Often, the developers who create software lack security expertise and understanding of specific industry standards. These vulnerabilities could result in data being stolen or compromised. There can also be intellectual property issues due to incompatibility in licenses used in OSS. It is vital for businesses to understand and evaluate the pros and cons before using OSS.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in the article are affiliated with Indeed.

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