What is Open Source and Why Should I Care?

Posted on the 31 August 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds
This is Ubuntu, behold it's glory. This is great open source software

I feel like it may be time to divulge a bit about myself besides my predilection for technology. I am notoriously cheap. Part of the reason I learn new things is to avoid paying people to do them for me. Well, you can imagine how much I dislike paying for computer software. Not that people shouldn't sell software, as a former programmer that is definitely not my point, I just prefer free or cheaper alternatives. That is where open source software comes into play.

Open Source software is based on, shockingly enough, open source practices. Open Source is a production ethos that promotes access to the final work's source materials. For our purposes, that means access to the source code of the program. Source code is the actual programming code that is used to create an application. You don't have to be a computer programmer to gain something from open source however. Freedom of source code usually means free to own. In exchange for the free software and source, you agree that if you modify and/or redistribute the product you make the source available as well. Another benefit of open source software is the communities it fosters. Instead of waiting on a company that supports many products to update or enhance your applications, you get a large community of programmers that love the programs they work on.

In a real world programming shop, you have milestones and deadlines you have to hit, or heads will roll. If your program is set to ship in a month and you find a huge flaw last minute, you either have to push back the release date, and deal with the negative backlash, or ship it with the problem and then release a patch. With the open source community, these deadlines aren't set in stone like that, which allows flexibility to only ship a product when it's ready. Other than flexibility to ship a product when it's ready, open source also offers an agile update and upgrade production cycle. Instead of following the typical channels for a software shop to get an update out, open source programmers tend to attack a problem as it arises, and ask for help along the way. I can't pinpoint what it is about them, but open source programmers tend to be voracious problem solvers. If there is a patch, security update, extension, driver, or really anything at all, needed, these guys and gals tend to be on it rather quickly. And that, my friends, leads into my favorite aspect of open source, the developers.

Open source developers are really what make open source truly special. These are the problem solvers we all tried to cheat off of in school. They're the people that saw a product they wanted and decided they'd buy it, dissect it, and make their own version. They've written operating systems, browsers, productivity suits, anti-virus programs and so much more. I'll get into some of my favorite open source software in just a moment, but it's important to note that if there is a program you need, there is a good chance it's open source. With such a large community of active users and developers, it is easy to find all of the programs, drivers and utilities you need compute until your heart is content. Also, this community is veru helpful. So if you decide you want to use some of these programs, their is a great resource should you have any questions. And, you can be a part of it. If you find yourself particularly proficient in a software package, you can hop on the forums and help others navigate through the software. It really engenders a sense of belonging and community that is quite fun to be a part of.

Since you've all been so patient with my little shpeel about this stuff, it's time to get to the good stuff. We'll start off with, in my mind, the crown jewel in the open source crown, Linux. Linux is a free operating system that has all of the bells and whistles of the OSes you have to pay for. It is my operating system of choice and is very easy to use. I will be writing a Linux user's guide in the near future, but for now, let's just say this is worth a try. Ubuntu is my preferred Linux distribution. You can actually test out Ubuntu without having to commit to installing it, so you can test if it's for you. Just download and burn a "Live CD" and you can try it before you commit to it. Another great open source package is Open Office. It offers essentially the same features of Microsoft's Office Suite, but is absolutely free to use. You can prepare text documents, spreadsheets and presentations and more with Open Office. I personally use and love Open Office, so it's definitely worth a try. The last piece of open source software we're going to talk about is Gimp. Gimp is a free image editing and manipulation program. Gimp is kind of like Photoshop lite. It doesn't have all of the features of Photoshop, but it has far more features than I've found uses for. It's definitely nice to have if you take a lot of pictures.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog