What Is Open Source Software?
The Linux Foundation | 14 February 2017
What is Open Source Software? Most of us think we already know, but in fact, there are a number of interpretations and nuances to defining Open Source.
This is the first article in a new series that will explain the basics of open source for business advantage and how to achieve it through the discipline of professional open source management. (These materials are excerpted from The Linux Foundation Training course on professional open source management. Download the full sample chapter now.)
Defining “Open Source” in common terms is the first step for any organization that wants to realize, and optimize, the advantages of using open source software (OSS) in their products or services. So let’s start by defining what we mean when we talk about open source.
What we mean when we talk about OSS
When people talk about Open Source, they often use the term in a number of different ways. Open Source can be a piece of software that you download for free from the Internet, a type of software license, a community of developers, or even an ideology of access and participation.
Although these are all aspects of the Open Source phenomenon, there is actually a more precise definition:
Open Source Software (OSS) is software distributed under a license that meets certain criteria:
1. It is available in source code form (without charge or at cost)
2. Open Source may be modified and redistributed without additional permission
3. Finally, other criteria may apply to its use and redistribution.
Official definitions of OSS
The most widely accepted definition for Open Source Software comes from the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The OSI website also lists a number of licenses that have been reviewed and found compliant with the definition, but there are additionally many licenses currently in
circulation that meet these criteria.
The Free Software Foundation, for its part, prefers the term “Free Software” and a much simpler definition, but “Open Source” is compatible with and includes “Free Software.” Sometimes, these terms are combined as “FOSS” – Free and Open Source Software.
What OSS is not
Now, there are also other kinds of downloadable software that are not Open Source, and they must be accounted for. These other types of software include:
● Shareware or Free Trialware, which is downloadable software with commercial terms that actually can involve payments under various circumstances
● There is also any other software that does not allow free re-distribution as part of another program, like, perhaps, one of your organization’s products.
Now that we’ve established what open source software is in common terms, we can move on to the business case for using open source software. Next week, we’ll discuss how and why OSS can be used for business advantage. And in the following articles, we’ll cover more open source basics including the operational challenges and risks for companies using OSS, common open source management techniques, open source licensing, and more.
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