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Ellis, Michelle

        With the advent of the personal computer and Internet, software was developed predominately by computer engineers. However, as technology has progressed, access to the computers and the Internet has become less restricted. As a result, everyday people have contributed to the progression of technology by writing programs using open-source software.  Open-source software (OSS) is source code for software that is accessible for users to use, explore, and improve.
        The open-source format is utilized by all types of technology firms, from start-ups to large established companies such as IBM and Intel. The basic difference between open-source software and commercial software is that OSS allows users to alter the source code, whereas commercial software does not. An open source advocacy group set a standard definition and created guidelines for OSS.
        An organization called the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was created to establish standards and regulations for OSS to abide. Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens—computer programmers and advocates of open source—founded the OSI in February 1998. (“History of the OSI”). The organization established "The Open Source Definition", which outlines 10 criteria OSS must meet. The criteria can be summarized into three main ideas. First, Free Distribution and Licensing—the source code must be accessible without a fee or royalties; and licensing must not inhibit the use of the code. Second, Source Code and Integrity—the code must be written a universally understandable computer language, and the users must maintain the integrity of the code. Finally, No Discrimination—the code must not restrict usage by a particular type of person or group. Having these guidelines makes it clear as to what OSS is, and how it is to be used.
            There are many open source programs that serve a variety of functions from the simple—word processing to the complex—sound and video editing. [Here is a list of free and open source software packages.] There is a number of more commonly known open-source software that has established themselves as leaders in the industry. One of the most popular examples of OSS is Firefox, which is an internet browser. Users of Firefox contributed to the development of the browser directly—writing code and programming, and/or indirectly—giving feedback, ideas, and opinions. The amalgamation of the Firefox community's effort resulted in a new way for people to experience the Internet. Essentially the mission of Firefox is to foster an environment in which people can choose and control their online experience. 
            With the creation of open-source software both creators and users received immediate benefits. The most obvious benefit of OSS is that users receive the software for free. This is significant because commercial software is usually expensive, but OSS provided a free alternative that performed similar tasks. The most important benefit of OSS to users is that it allowed individuals to customize software to fit their needs at no cost. Some of the benefits creators of OSS received from the open-source model were free development, direct feedback, and free distribution. The software was being inspected and continuously improved on by a community of people at no cost to the creators. Allowing people to access and interact with the OSS allowed for direct feedback, which is valuable to improving the software and addressing issues that may have been overlooked. With developers and programming enthusiasts utilizing the software an opportunity to spread the software through user networks arose, making the distribution of the software free and rapid. Because there are obvious benefits on both side of the open-source format, OSS has become more prevalent.
    Although there are apparent benefits of OSS, there are also disadvantages. The most significant disadvantage of OSS is that there is no support service. Because different people contribute to the development of the software there is no specific support system in place. When issues arise, users often have to seek help from forums, which is not the most efficient means of solving a problem. Unlike commercial software, OSS has no legal obligation to answer your questions in a timely manner, or at all for that matter. This problem is only confounded by the fact that OSS is continuously being modified which makes it difficult to write a manual for users to reference. Another problem of OSS is that it can be unreliable. Since OSS is free, it may become difficult over time for people to be committed to developing software that they will never earn a profit from. Therefore, there is the looming fear that a “project can die”—people lose interest in working on the software. (“Open Source Software in Online Business”) Finally, a major concern about OSS for use in firms is that it may increase costs as opposed to decreasing them. Some OSS applications are not compatible with some hardware, and commercial software—specifically Windows, which makes installing OSS a more expensive venture. Although OSS is an alternative to commercial software, it is not a substitute because of these shortcomings.
        Open-source software provides computer users with options in terms of programs they can utilize. The main differentiator of OSS is that it allows users to actively participate in creating software and customize it to fulfill their needs. The open-source format changed they way people used computers and viewed technology. The availability and inexpensiveness of OSS has made it possible for everyone to have access to quality technological resources. For all of its shortcomings, OSS has provided a number of benefits to computer users chiefly through giving people the power to create a product that they want. With the vigilance of the Open Source Initiative, OSS can continue to flourish and allow people to freely access technology.


  • "History of the OSI | Open Source Initiative." Mission | Open Source Initiative. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. <http://www.opensource.org/history>.
  • "History of the Mozilla Project." Home of the Mozilla Project. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. <http://www.mozilla.org/about/history.html>.
  • "Open Source Software in Online Business - Advantages and Disadvantages." Internet Marketing Resources, Web Development, Affiliate and Ecommerce Site Guides.
             Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://www.tamingthebeast.net/articles5/open-source-software.htm>.
  • ONLamp.com. Web. 08 Dec. 2011. <http://onlamp.com/onlamp/2005/09/15/what-is-opensource.html>.