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The Advent of Open Source Software

By JASON BAILEY
Sun Advocate/Progress Webmaster


At one point or another, most people have purchased software for their computer. It may have been an office suite (like Microsoft Office), a virus scanner (Norton McAfee) or some sort of game. Once we have purchased the software, we are authorized to use the software but are bound by the rules of the software's license agreement.

This agreement, for example, prohibits buyers from making copies of the program for others to use, or from reverse-engineering (decompiling) the software.

Such programs are often developed behind closed doors by corporations like Microsoft, Norton or McAfee. The program's source code (the textual instructions that constitute a program) is developed by corporate employees. Once the program has been completed, the source code is used to generate, or "compile" an actual software program (executable) that can be installed on the customer's computer.

Not long ago, a new software development model emerged that was far different than the traditional model. In 1998, a handful of people formed the Open Source Initiative (OSI). This initiative, which has since ignited a huge global movement, focuses on open standards, availability and freedom.

All open source programs share several common facets:

• Royalty-free distribution. Meaning, you can't charge people for the distribution of open source software.

• A copy of the source code is included with the program, so the program can be modified or altered to the users' desires.

• Allows modifications and derived works (which can then be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software). In other words, if you want to distribute a modified version of an open source program, it must be released under the same conditions.

So what does this mean to you? It means highly capable software is available to you at no cost. You may already be using some sort of open-source software. Here's several of my favorites (search on Google):*

Mozilla Firefox, a full-featured web browser

Mozilla Thunderbird, a full-featured email client

OpenOffice.org, an office suite comparable to Microsoft Office® for Windows, Linux and Mac OS-X

FileZilla, an FTP server and client for Windows

Linux, an operating system, like Windows or Mac OS-X

KDE, a desktop environment for Linux

Miranda-IM, a multi-protocol chat program for Windows that is compatible with AIM, ICQ, IRC, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Jabber, among other protocols.

ClamAV, a virus scanner for Windows, Linux and OS-X.

Apache, web server software for Windows, Linux and other operating systems.

MySQL, a relational database server for Windows, Linux, OS-X and other operating systems.

Some people in the technology industry are hesitant to trust open-source software, claiming that it isn't safe or lacks accountability. However, such conclusions are often made in ignorance without facts. Open source software has been embraced by major companies like IBM, Novell, Sun and Apple, who can't risk adopting software that isn't supported or doesn't work.

One of the great things about open source software is motivation. Most open source projects are not commercially driven, which can actually be a very good thing. Many open source advocates care more about personal pride than profit, and will put alot of time and effort into their software, ensuring it works well. Others are developing open source software for their own specific needs, and are graciously sharing that software with everyone else.

In any event, open source software provides some excellent alternatives to commercial software and are worth a look!

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