Open-Source Software

What is Open-Source Software?

Computer software with a special license that allows users in the general public to edit and improve the source code. Famously exemplified in the Firefox Web browser and Wikipedia encyclopedia, it is an example of the kind of collaboration that is encouraged under the Web 2.0 ethos. Contrast with closed, propriety software that does not share its code base beyond an exclusive group of authorized developers.

When a program is open-source, its source code is freely available to its users. Its users, and anyone else, may take this source code, modify it, and distribute their own versions of the program. The users also can distribute as many copies of the original program as they want. Anyone may use the program for any purpose; there are no licensing fees or other restrictions on the software.

An example is Ubuntu Linux is an open-source operating system. You may download Ubuntu, create as many copies as you want, and give them to your friends. Anyone can install Ubuntu in limitless amounts on your computers. You can create remixes of the Ubuntu installation disc and distribute them. If you were motivated, you could download the source code for a program in Ubuntu and modify it, creating your own customized version of that program, or of Ubuntu itself. Open-source licenses all allow you to do this, while closed-source licenses place restrictions on you.

Closed Source Software

The opposite of open-source software is closed-source software, which has a license that restricts users and keeps the source code from them.

Firefox, Chrome, OpenOffice, Linux,Wikipedia encyclopedia, and Android are some popular examples of open-source software, while Microsoft Windows is probably the most popular piece of closed-source software out there.


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