What is Open Source Software

Most, if not all, software packages contain some form of license agreement. This agreement defines what you, as the end user, are allowed or not allowed to do with the software. For example, a license agreement may state that you are allowed to install only one copy of the software to one computer at any given time, and that redistribution is prohibited. In this case, you would have to buy a copy of the software for each computer you want to install it onto, and you are not able to share the installation CD with your friends.

Open source software differers from other software because it has a less restrictive license agreement: Instead of using a restrictive license that prevents you from modifying the program or sharing it with friends for example, sharing and modifying open source software is encouraged. Anyone who wishes to do so may distribute, modify or even create derivative works based on that source code!

There are several immediate advantages to using open source software:

  • Low cost: Open source software is typically offered free of charge. If it isn't, you are always able to build the source code for free.
  • Simple licensing: You can finally stop worrying about product authorization and retyping those long product keys - open source software can be used, shared and modified.
  • No vendor lock-ins: Because the source code is open and freely available, no single entity has supreme control over the source code. The software can be customized to for any task - without the need for special licensing terms or royalties.
  • Community support: A community of users are often able to answer support questions via support forums and mailing lists, also free of charge.

For more information, see the Open Source Initiative's definition of open source software.