open to your comments on open source

Open Source is a term that is tossed around a lot in our classes. While I grasp the general idea, there are things that don’t add up for me. So, off I went into the World Wide Web to find some answers.

I welcome anyone to correct me if I am headed in the wrong direction with this….people refer to software as being open source and/or free. Well, free means that it is like Adobe Reader, I can go out download it and start using it whenever. If it is open source, once I have it, I can take a look at the code that makes it work and play with it. I am not sure exactly how that works. Maybe you make a copy so that you don’t screw up the program that you possibly just paid for….and then you futz with the copy?

The idea is that then someone else can come along and build on your ideas. They might just clean up a problem that the software is having. They might take what you have done and alter it for a whole different purpose and then start selling it. OSI believes that development will happen better, faster and cheaper if we share our ideas instead of hiding them. Everyone need not start from scratch. Instead, let us build upon each other’s accomplishments.

I like this. Reading the intro on the Open Source Initiative home page makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. They use words like promise, trust and cooperation. But as I start pondering this again, I am still having problems summing it up. The Open Source Definition is a list of 10 different criteria for licensing of open-source software. The first of which is (directly from the site):

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

The idea that you can take something that someone else has built and add significant things to it, target another industry, repackage it and sell it makes sense. Maybe my software that handles insurance information for large construction projects could have the front end changed and apply to tracking of certifications for aircraft parts. I never would have seen that and I would be glad to have it out in the world making one part of building planes cheaper and better…maybe it’ll make my airline ticket cheaper one day. Yet, what if I take someone else’s software and update one small thing and then put a new name on it and sell it? It is 95% somebody else’s product with my little addition. I could just put half the cost that they put into development into marketing and steal all of their profits, right? Where did that warm and fuzzy feeling go?

I have gotten long winded again…which often means that I am headed in the wrong direction. So, if anyone wants to push me in the right direction, I’d welcome the shove.


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