Let me just start by saying that open source software is not the same thing as freeware software. I think that it can be confusing because both of them are free to download and you feel like you are getting something awesome without having to spend the out of pocket, but they are not the same thing. With freeware, someone else still owns the license. Someone else still owns the distribution of the software and it is illegal for anyone else to distribute it. Open source, on the other hand, is pretty different. But what exactly is open source and what does it mean?
Open Source By Definition
Open source software is a type of software that has a source code that can be altered by anyone. So you have the ability to download it and change it to fit your needs. You also have the ability to distribute it as you would like to since the software is not owned by anyone.
Looking at Source Code
Source code is a piece of the software that is not seen by the users while they are using it. It is the code that programmers have written that make the computer read what the program is in order to have it function. In the case of open source, programmers who alter the code can improve the software’s performance by adding in more features, cleaning up any problems, or enhancing what is already there.
What makes it Different?
Other types of software, including freeware, has a person, company, or a group of people who own the right to control the source code and distribution of the software. They are usually the people who wrote the software initially and are therefore the “authors” of the work, just like someone who wrote a book.
To put it in different terms, in the world of literature and books, some work is put into the “public domain,” meaning anyone has the write to copy, alter, and distribute the work at will. In the terms of software, open source is the same. Anyone has the right to copy, alter, and distribute it. With other types of software, this is prohibited so that the original authors have the rights to it.
Usually open source software programmers have written the software to specifically share it with anyone. This is usually to fight against the larger software companies who charge an incredible amount of money for a software, like Microsoft Office, that people really need in order to function in the workplace. With open source software, like LibreOffice, you can successfully perform the tasks that you need to do without having to pay out the money that Microsoft charges.
Open Source for Non-Programmers
While it could seem like open source software only matters to computer programmers, it is also important for non-programmers. While you may not want to alter the source code, you can still download the open source software for free and use it to your own personal advantage.
In fact, much of the internet that we use today was built using open source software. Anytime you look at a website, look at your email, play an online game, or stream music and video, you are using open source software to connect your local data to the data on the internet. When you are using online word processing, email, and even photo editing software, you do not need to download the software onto your computer. Instead you are using remote open source software that is being run on a computer far away computer. This is also known as “cloud computing,” but regardless, it is all using open source software.