Open source is a programming approach whereby the all aspects of the design, development, and functionality of software is open for review by way of the source code which is made freely available to the public. Open source not only applies to program source code, but can apply to supplementary files as well. The opposite of open source software is proprietary software which heavily guards there source code and keeps the development and updating of the software as an in house process.
Open source software is seen as a security advantage to many , but others regard this as a risk because of the ability of hackers to more easily identify weaknesses in the source code for competitors to steal ideas which might put one company at a competitive advantage to another. Advocates of the open source community argue that the benefits of a community that has access to source code with strengthen it rather than provide opportunities for exploitation. This can be compared to Darwin's survival of the fittest theory and evolutionary processes which allows the program to adapt and evolve to fit the needs of the users making the program better. Utilizing the proprietary method the evolution and the ability of the software to progress is limited to to the perspective and scope of the in house programmers who utilize feedback to make changes.
it should be interesting to note that open source software has an average exploit-to-patch time of under 12 hours on average, while proprietary software has an average exploit-to-patch time of 23 days. Clearly we can see that their is a disadvantage to the user in terms of security when utilizing proprietary software. Despite this known fact, software vendors still contend that the open source software approach provides numerous security issues. Some other advantages of open source include a larger community of users which will ensure further support and customization of the software. Possibly the most significant advantage is that there is not unilateral limitation of what the software users can do with the software, since the source code is freely available to the public, the software can be redistributed and customized to meet the specific needs of the user, rather than being restricted to the design limitations of the publisher.
The first software to be released under the moniker "open source" was Netscape Navigator. They developed a public license, but chose to use a name for their approach that distinctly defined that their software was not free, but free to modify. The goal of making a profit has generally been the main barrier for software companies to adopt the open soft model despite it's clear advantages. A good example is Linux which is able to compete and excel at performance over Windows products, however in terms of commercial adoption and market share Microsoft has remained the clear leader. This is likely a result in educational and government entities choosing to go with a proprietary software engine which provides the traditional model of security by omission of design.
The open source concept is spreading to other areas such as journalism, media, and culture. The ability to allow decisions from several inputs, with different approaches has clearly shown to be advantageous in the software world. With the popularity of the internet the lines between sharing, open source, free, intellectual data, and stealing have become blurred. Without the internet, it is unlikely that open source would be able to thrive. The verdict is still out on what software vendors and the public will ultimately choose as the pervasive model of software development.
Open Source Software Links:
The Open Source Initiative
Wikipedia Definition of OpenSource
Open Source Projects for Mac