What is Open Source Software

Good day to you all. I want to thank for taking the time to read my column. Today I want to try to explain what Open Source Software or OSS is, why you want it and finally how to get it. Some of you may have heard of OSS before, but my guess is that most of you haven’t. Either way, you’re in for a real treat. As you know by now, most of what I recommend has to meet two criteria: 1) It most often has to be free and 2) I have to have tried it, used it, and really love. If these two things are not true, I usually will not make a recommendation to you. Now I’m a big fan of OSS and have been using it for about 5 years now. In fact the operating system I use most is of the OSS variety. Going off my previous comment of software needing to be free, you might be thinking, “Wait, does he mean that there is a free operating system out there?” The answer is yes. I’ll get to that in a moment.

OSS (http://www.opensource.org) has deep roots, and its main attraction point is what the name suggests. Which is unlike products from commercial companies like Microsoft, the makers of the software also provide you with the source code. Why is this important? Well if you find a bug, or need a feature that isn’t currently supported you can just add it into the code. If you yourself don’t program you could always beg or hire a programmer to do it for you. The idea is FREEDOM. Freedom from control that a company my excise over you the consumer. With the source code you are limited by only your imagination. So who writes all this code? Better yet, how do they afford to do it if the software is free? The code is written by programmers the world over. Each of them contributing what they can to programs that they find useful. Many of the OSS projects out there are supported by people like you and me who find it useful and want to encourage further development of the program. Many OSS projects do accept donations, but you’re not required to spend a red cent in order to use it. There is one HUGE stipulation with OSS. If you are a programmer you cannot take free code, compile it with changes or not in order to profit from the sale of that software. OSS came about…well the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” pretty well sums it up. Most of it comes about because someone has a need and some knowledge to write code, and no $$$ in order to buy the commercial equivalent.

So, if I’ve made a convincing argument you starting to wonder where you can get your hands on some of this free software. Let me first say that there are OSS programs that can replace your current Internet browser, Office software, email program, image editing, anti-virus programs, and yes your entire operating system. Many of them are compatible with Microsoft products as well. The best place or places for OSS is http://www.sourceforge.net. It’s a huge website with thousands of OSS projects, so take your time. Once you find something you like or need downloading can be confusing at first. You’ll click a green “Download” button which will take you to a list of servers or places that you can download it from. Try picking a server that is psychically close by. Then just save it to your desktop and install it. As you begin trying out some free OSS be patient. It sometimes take time. Another site I like of OSS is http://freshmeat.net, downloading is a bit easier at FreshMeat, but the site isn’t as attractive or feature rich.

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This article was last updated on: 10 May 2006