By: John Michael PierobonJohn Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
Some of the best software in the world is free. No, I am not referring to pirated software, which is illegal. I am referring to "Open Source" software.
Open source software is freely distributed source code.
Examples of open source software include Apache, the world's most popular Web server; Squid, a proxy caching server; FreeBSD, one of the most popular flavors of Berkeley UNIX; PHP, an easy-to-learn scripting language used to embed code in HTML pages; OpenGL, a library of graphics functions; MySQL and PostgreSQL, two relational database systems.
"Open Source" means quality. Personal pride is involved; so programmers want to do the right thing. Their code is subject to peer review, which leads to secure and reliable code. Peer review also tends to discourage sloppy and inefficient programming. This encourages continuous improvement, and often developers respond directly to bug reports.
Skilled programmers donate their time to develop open source code because it is fun for them. It gives them an opportunity to work on challenging projects. Programmers do not want to be dependent on vendors to provide enhancements, so this allows them to add features and functionality not currently available.
The pool of skilled developers is greater than what any one company can afford. Because of the Internet, geographically disperse programmers can cooperate on writing and improving software. This is in essence how Linux came to be.
Because open source software has the unique characteristics of being of very high quality and being freely distributed, open source software has made inroads into the corporate world without having a sales force. Although it is free, Apache is the world's most popular Web server because, for most cases, it is the best Web server available.
While open source software is free and feature-rich, it not for everybody. Open source software does not come in a neat box. Usually it has to be downloaded, then uncompressed, compiled, installed, and then configured, before it can be used. Because source code has to be compiled, the correct compiler is required. Compilation, installation, and configuration options need to be properly set. Open source documentation is improving, but one must be able to understand the documentation. Hence, a certain level of technical sophistication is needed in order to use open source software.
Open source software does have some copyright requirements. Most open source copyright pose no restrictions on private or commercial use of the software and imposes only simple and uniform requirements for maintaining copyright notices in redistributed versions and crediting the originator of the material. Yet each copyright notice has special, yet minor, exceptions which one must strictly adhere to.
Use open source software in good health, but do not go around violating any copyrights, including mine. :-)
© 2001 - 2006 John Michael Pierobon