Today open source software is used by everyone & everywhere knowingly or unknowingly. But it was not like this from the beginning.
It all started around late ~60’s?—?early 70’s. This was the time when there was no concept of Open Source Software and Packaged Software was all the rage. Point to be noted is that open source software always existed just the term wasn’t coined yet and hence there were no laws governing proprietary and free software. Everyone in the pretty non existent software industry that time realized the potential of software and wanted to earn loads and loads of money. Even after everyone realized the potential of software, the software created that time was mostly unstable to say the least. One wrong instruction and you could brick your system. The computers came in a kit with manuals. You have to build your own computer reading the instructions in the manual. As the computer revolution started, enthusiasts started organizing meetups and they started writing code for fun. These meet ups are the reason behind many tech giants today and has a hand in the founding of Open source as well. As floppy disks came to existence around mid 70’s there was no way to install external software on computers at the time except typing them yourself. Many of the enthusiasts published their code in tech magazines so that anyone can copy that code in their systems and run it. Very cumbersome but was the only way, a small mistake meant that the code won’t run. The cherry on top was that there was no Intellisence or code completion either to help you. The code was available free and even could be modified as per the needs.
Smells like Open Source to me.
As technology advanced and more complex OS and software came to existence pretty much everyone started selling there code to companies or either directly to the consumers, but still there were a fraction of coders who just wanted everyone to know and use the piece of code they created. This was also the time around which Microsoft and Apple were born with already established corporations such as Xerox and IBM giving rise to the microcomputer revolution. As you know that presently Apple, Microsoft, IBM are one of the biggest corporations in the world but there is a lot of competition to these giants which is mostly due to the Open Source revolution.Many startups and also some of the big corporations now-a-days build their products on already present Open source code as it is easy to build upon already present software rather then creating something from scratch. Let’s take an example of Microsoft for a better understanding. Microsoft remaking Microsoft edge on the open source Chromium platform on which Google Chrome is also made is the best example of this. Microsoft was a software company and created OS and other software for the hardware companies like IBM. They sold the software to these corporations and earned royalty on every copy which was bundled with the computers. As there was no challenge to them a monopoly was established and Microsoft made fortunes. All was going good for Microsoft until the free software revolution begun(open source). Microsoft still was the industry leader and maintained the monopoly but the consumers complained about the same as they did not have any choice about what they get and what they don’t with the software they buy. Without going into much detail, when the Free Software Movement came to effect it gained a lot of support from Linus Torvalds the founder of Linux and Netscape making navigator open source to name a few. Netscape navigator was the first browser and was made by the company Netscape. Linus Torvalds was a big supporter of free software from the beginning as everyone knows and uses or has used his product Linux. This was also the time when the term open source was coined gaining backup from legends like Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds just naming a few. Richard Stallman is the one who started the revolution after all and also the creator of GNU.
Before diving into much details lets know what exactly is an Open Source Software.
Open source is a term denoting that a product includes permission to use its source code, design documents, or content. It most commonly refers to the open source model , in which open source software or other products are released under an as part of the open source movement.
The definition is pretty straightforward and I hope you get what it means.
As stated above you can infer that wide spread open source usage came only after the open source movement gained traction, but still does not have a huge user base till date.
What is the open source movement?
The open source movement is a movement that supports the use of open source licences for some or all of the software. The movement started to spread the concept of open source software. Developers/Programmers who support the open source software philosophy contribute to the open source community by voluntarily writing and exchanging programming code for software development. The term “open source” requires that no one can discriminate against any group or individual in obtaining or editing the code of an open source software. This approach to software development allows anyone to obtain and modify the open-source code. These modifications are distributed back to the developers within the open-source community of people who are working with the software. In this way, the identities of all individuals participating in code modification are disclosed and the transformation of the code is documented over time. This method makes it difficult to establish ownership of a particular bit of code but is in keeping with the open-source-movement philosophy. These goals promote the production of high-quality programs as well as working cooperatively with other similarly-minded people to improve open-source technology.
Why Open Source is better than Proprietary?
Open source software has a lot of advantages over proprietary software. First of all you should know that OSS is an umbrella term and includes all type of software including and not limited to Operating Systems, Kernels, browsers, media players, office applications just to name a few. All the major Open Source software work on par with their proprietary counterparts if not better, but there are also cases where Open source software out shadows the proprietary counterpart. For example consider Google Chrome vs Internet Explorer. Chrome is built upon the open source Chromium browser and it splashes Internet Explorer out of water in each and every aspect. Most of the programmers/developers who know their stuff use Internet Explorer to download Chrome on first use of the system.
Reasons due to which OSS trumps over Proprietary
- Open source software provides a level of customization to the end user which proprietary software just cannot provide. The customization can be done by the user itself or can use someone else’s technique from the community. Proprietary software allows for customization which are allowed by the parent corporation of the software.
- Open source software is free to use and modify till you adhere to the terms stated in the licence that the software uses. While in the case of proprietary software first of all there is usually a hefty fee for buying the software and then you cannot make any changes to the software as you are not provided with the source code. Sometimes you might have to subscribe to the software as if you your re using a service by giving a small monthly fee but paying from your pocket nonetheless. There is no crime in asking money for a product one created but this behavior can sometimes lead to exploitation of the consumers especially in the case of a monopoly. This not only applies to software industry but to every market in general.
- OSS aim on helping the world grow just because they enjoy helping others and not for money, while the counterparts also make a huge impact on the world there is usually a price associated with it.
- OSS has a backing of unexpected number of contributors which help it to grow both in terms of functionality and speed while also providing security to the users which is as per the standards the world follows. While so many developers work on a project there’s very little to no chance of a flaw. Proprietary software developers have a designated team which work on the software. While the latter is not bad at all and in some ways more organised than OSS they lack the element of creator freedom.
- As OSS does not discriminate between a newbie and an experienced developer and one can contribute to the project as per the respective knowledge levels, while in proprietary software mostly experienced developers are hired and made to work on the software so as to comply with the standards.
What impact does Open Source Software has on the world and it’s possible future?
Open Source Software has changed the software industry for good. There is now very less software that exploits and monopolizes its users as there is an open source program alternative which provides all of the same functionality and without any cost to the user. As more and more users and developers become aware of the different OSS available, it might have a significant impact in the earth itself as more and more developers have a hand in developing something big it can change our future for good.
Currently OSS is not popular among masses because it has zero advertising associated with it, hence a common user has no idea that a free alternative to an expensive software exists.
It is also great for developers to develop their skills personally
- You learn new techniques and efficient ways to solve a problem from very experienced developers also working on the project.
- If you develop and release your own OSS it might catch the eye of experts and they might be interested in contributing to your code, this helps in increasing the popularity of your software and make you well known between different developers.
- It will make you a part of something big, a community with same goals and mindset as yours at-least in the coding aspect of it all.
OSS in the future will also have a great edge on its counterparts as the user base increases for it.
- Increased number of users and developers means increased number of features and security measures.
- Frequent updates can be rolled out as there are a ton of developers working on the software.
- Number of bugs in the software can be reduced significantly.
- The software can be always on top of its security.
- Everyone will be getting this for free of cost.
In the end I would just like to add that Open source is the future, that does not necessarily means that it will kill proprietary software as we can see that both competitors help each other in making themselves better at what they do. Without any competition in the market the software will become stale and you will be using the same thing with same features for years as you won’t have any choice to replace the software. OSS has a ton of potential if just everyone realizes it as soon as possible.
Is open source the future? was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.