Why are we passionate about choosing, and using Open Source Software wherever possible?
You might be thinking this seems like a peculiar geek eccentricity for people that like typing commands in DOS terminals.
Or you might think its a cheapskate way to avoid paying for software.
But on the web, open source software is ubiquitous and often easy to use, and its not always free either.
So what do we mean by Open Source Software and why is it awesome?
“Copywritten so – don’t copy me” Missy Elliot*
Proprietary software means that its copywritten. Its not legal to copy, edit, add to, or most often see the code that makes it work.
- The software might not be available for friends to use. We might decide to purchase it but most software that we use for communications depends on our friends being able to use it in order to be useful.
- People can’t adapt the software’s function to suit their needs. (although some companies provide API’s which are a way to add functions to a service without changing the core software)
- People can’t easily share improvements they’ve made to software, so often it takes longer for new functions to become available.
- People can’t check the software to make sure there isn’t malicious or dangerous code that may steal or give away your information.
So for example Facebook doesn’t cost money to use, but when we sign up we agree to them collecting and sharing all kinds of information about us. If we want to make changes to how we use it, for example what information we see in our feed, we are really limited. And if we want to know for sure what they are doing with our information, or whether there messenger app is in fact being used as a remote recording device without our control, we don’t for sure.
“Burn it off the internet and bump it outside – we’re keeping it live” Immortal Techniques*
Open source software means that we can freely access the code that makes it work. Its most often free, but sometimes costs money for premium services that pay the developers who make it work for you.
- There is usually a way for friends to legally and freely access the software.
- People can make changes or add to the software and do whatever they need to make it work for them.
- People can then share those changes, so updates, plugins and hacks can be made available, and a culture of ‘share and share alike’ can develop in Open Source Software communities.
- People can audit the software and to make sure it is safe to use. We might not be able to do this ourselves, but due to the culture of ‘share and share alike’, other people do and share what they find. practising
Because of the innovations and transparency of Open Source Software, probably most of the websites you are visiting right now are using Open Source Content Management Systems, and are delivered to you from Open Source servers, and you might even be viewing it in an Open Source web browser like Firefox.
But just because something is Open Source and even if we are not paying for it, it doesn’t mean that no-one is making money off it. Hey, the countless developers who are making this website work need bread and roses too.
Check out our next blog to explore how people in the technology industry are publishing and using Open Source software that challenges the current capitalist paradigm, and are still making money.