What is Open-Source Software?

It is true that you will not need to know anything about any sort of software in order to use a computer or a program installed on it. After all, you just click on an icon and the program opens itself to you! It really is all true, but knowing why and what the software does when your computer opens a program for you could make the process of using a computer much less difficult. (i.e. You wouldn’t need to hit your PC when an app budges! It doesn’t really work that way – it’s all in the coding of the software!)

What we have been generally taught about software is that it consists of many different pieces of information stored in one place, creating instructions about how a computer should work. Now that we covered that – that software is just a group of scattered pieces of information, I wanted to introduce you to something that changed software development and computer coding completely: open-source software.

What is open-source software?

Open-source software, similarly to any sort of software, is a group of different pieces of information – but this grouping has a different goal.

Its goal is to create a code that is open, that is to say, available for everyone to use, inspect or study from.

While many other pieces of software are private, proprietary software, which only the members of a certain company owning the software can have access to, open software is – you guessed it – open for everyone to use.

Different from closed software whose users have to legally sign a document not to reveal or modify the code, the open-source software allows not only modifying, but it also allows everyone to make changes! Simply put – the goal of OSS (open-source software) is to create a code that anyone can borrow from, redesign, and study from.

Why is this important?

How can I put it without saying that it really, really is important, even to non-programmers! While it may not seem like “a big deal”, really, almost all of the things we use on our PCs, Macs, or phones rely on some sort of open-source software; Apps and programs are made by programmers relying on some sort of an open-source code. For example, you wouldn’t be able to read this article without open-source software – your computer (or whatever platform you’re on right now) is using OSS to connect to a global network of OSS users in order to track and bring you the data (my article) on your PC (or any other platform) for you to read it. Incredible, huh? Also, take the example of online Photoshop, or online Word apps that you sometimes use when you’re in dire need of them but when you don’t have your PC with you.

These, and many other websites, programs, or apps alike all have a thing in common – they run on open-source software.

If it’s open, does that mean it’s free?

Many people confuse these two as synonymous – but they aren’t. Just because they are open, doesn’t mean they are free – sometimes you will have to pay a small fee in order to use the code!