What Is Open Source?
"Open Source" means that the application's source code is publicly viewable and that its licensing allows the work to be modified and/or freely redistributed. Anyone can create their own version on their own computer or server but the official version of the code would be controlled by the project maintainer.
Is Open Source Software Secure?
One of the big advantages of Open Source is that anyone in the world can inspect the code to make sure that it is correct, and that no contributions are suspicious and that it is secure. As a result, more people look at and verify the code in addition to the main developer which results in higher quality applications with better security.
It's actually when vendors hide the defects in their closed source code that you should be worried. When you pay for closed-source software like Windows, OS X, iOS, Microsoft Office, SharePoint and others that there is usually no accountability that the code is actually correct. Sometimes even the government can't even determine this for itself, as the purchaser. Just ask Microsoft or Apple if they would mind giving you a sneak peek at their code. They are starting to move towards open source but aren't quite there yet. An open source approach gives you the ability to ensure that code is correct, if you have any doubts at all. It also enables you to continue building the software application should the original creator terminate its development or support.
Although anyone in the world can download, freely redistribute, modify and share their fixes and innovations, it does NOT mean that anyone in the world can modify the central repository of the software. Anything that is shared back from the community MUST be reviewed before it can be integrated back into the central repository on GitHub. This is actually desirable it enables the world to innovate along with you at no additional cost beyond triaging, integrating and maintaining the repository resulting in huge savings all the way around.
How is Open Source Software Licensed?
Although there are many different licenses for Open Source, some of the most popular include:
- Open Source MIT License. Example: Web Experience Toolkit (WET)
- Open Source GNU Public License (GPL). Examples: WordPress, Moodle, Drupal
- Creative Commons - For projects that are not software such as text, audio, video, images.
Note: Many components in WET are also licensed under GPL.
You can learn more about Open Source licenses by visiting choosealicense.com.
Is Open Source Software a Sustainable Solution?
It definitely is in many cases. Open Source gives the world the ability to continue developing the application after the current maintainer has stopped developing it. This leaves other free to continue enhancing it and applying bug and security fixes. Everyone benefit from these changes as a result of this collaborative approach to software development.
Open Source projects invite and encourage open collaboration and innovation. That said, many of the advantages of the Open Source concept are only sustainable if other people are interested and contribute back, not just take. The more people you have interested in your project, the more they will want to customize it and hopefully participate through quality assurance feedback and sharing their innovation back.
This doesn't mean that you need to accept all contributions to your project. You are in control and are perfectly within your rights as the project maintainer to only include contributions that take the application in the direction you want. People also have the right to clone (fork) your project and take it in a completely different direction that serves their needs.
And if one day you decide that you don't want to maintain the project anymore, you need just transfer it to someone else who is interested in order for the project to continue and possibly take on a new life of its own that may interest and be of use to you one day.
Who Uses Open Source Software?
You might of heard of these folks who call themselves Microsoft, Apple, Google, Oracle and Adobe? Not only do they use open source application, they lead and contribute to open source projects. Billions of people around the world use Open Source every day. Here are a few others organization you might have heard of that use open source (at the time of this writing):
- Norwegian Cruise line
- Bertie's Closet
- Fashion Stork
- Government of Canada
- Government of the USA
- Government of Australia
- Government of U.K.
- Trip Advisor
- TNG Consulting Inc.
- Bell Canada
- Well Fargo
- Bank of Montreal
- Hydro Quebec
- Most (all?) universities
- General Motors
- Tim Hortons
- Many hospitals
- J.P. Morgan Chase
- Johnson & Johnson
- General Electric
- Coca Cola
- Pizza Hut
- Pizza Pizza
This does not include them all. There are many more including a lot of small businesses as well.
Still think open source a fad or is not good enough for your organization? We could add many more to this list by virtue of the fact that most organizations today make use of open source projects like jQuery, YUI and Bootstrap in their websites. In fact, you may already be using it and not even realize it.
* All of the above mentioned companies are registered trademarks of their respective owners. Their appearance here does not imply endorsement.
Does the Government of Canada Develop Open Source?
Think the Government of Canada doesn't have any of its own Open Source projects? Think again. The Government of Canada actually leads the development of the Web Experience Tookit (WET), an award-winning open source front-end framework for building websites. It has been in use on EVERY Government of Canada website including Canada.ca for many years.
The project is renown around the world for accessibility and is also used in non-GoC organizations such as the city of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, Ontario Colleges, Nunavut General Monitoring Plan, the Open Government Platform just to name a few. This project integrates technology developed in many other open source projects. It only makes sense that the Government of Canada takes the lead on development and integration of the WET theme.
What are some popular Open Source projects?
Open source applications have been around for several decades. As a result, you will find that everyone from individuals like you to fortune 1000 corporations use open source software today. Here are some great examples of innovative Open Source software applications that you might have heard of and possibly even used (you may not even know it) include:
- Started in 1985 - OpenOffice/LibreOffice
- Started in 1991 - Linux OS
- Started in 1991 - Python programming language
- Started in 1994 - PHP programming language
- Started in 1995 - Apache HTTP Server
- Started in 1995 - MySQL/MariaDB database
- Started in 1999 - Moodle LMS
- Started in 2000 - Audacity Audio Editor
- Started in 2001 - Drupal CMS
- Started in 2003 - WordPress CMS
- 2004 to 2013 - SugarCRM
- Started in 2004 - Ubuntu OS, based on Linux
- Started in 2004 - Firefox web browser
- Started in 2004 - Ruby on Rails programming language
- Started in 2005 - Git
- Started in 2005 - PrestaShop eCommerce
- Started in 2006 - jQuery
- Started in 2007 - BigBlueButton
- Started in 2007 - VirtualBox
- Started in 2007 - Android, based on Linux
- Started in 2008 - Magento eCommerce
- Started in 2008 - OpenShot Video Editor
- Started in 2008 - Google Chrome web browse
- Started in 2010 - Vagrant
Some of these are estimated to be used by over 50% of the Internet with proprietary and other open source technologies making up the difference.