You are in the: Small Business Computing Channelarrow View Sites +
Small Business Technology
» ECommerce-Guide | Small Business Computing | Webopedia | WinPlanet |  »Close
Enter a word for a definition... ...or choose a computer category.

   Term of the Day
   New Terms
   New Links
   Quick Reference
   Did You Know?
   Tech Support
   Webopedia Jobs
   About Us
   Link to Us

talk to us
   Submit a URL
   Suggest a Term
   Report an Error
Internet Lists
Internet News
Internet Resources
Linux/Open Source
Personal Technology
Small Business
Windows Technology
xSP Resources
Corporate Info
Tech Jobs
E-mail Offers
  Be a Commerce Partner

All About Open Source

Open source usually refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community.

The rationale for this movement is that a larger group of programmers not concerned with proprietary ownership or financial gain will produce a more usefuland bug-free product for everyone to use. The concept relies on peer review to find and eliminate bugs in the program code, a process that commercially developed and packaged programs do not employ.

The basics behind the Open Source Initiative is that when programmers can read, redistribute and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves.  Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI)

Open Source is a certification standard issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) that indicates that the source code of a computer program is made available free of charge to the general public. OSI dictates that in order to be considered "OSI Certified" a product must meet the following criteria:

  • The author or holder of the license of the source code cannot collect royalties on the distribution of the program.
  • The distributed program must make the source code accessible to the user.
  • The author must allow modifications and derivations of the work under the program's original name.
  • No person, group or field of endeavor can be denied access to the program.
  • The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program's being part of a particular software distribution.
  • The licensed software cannot place restrictions on other software that is distributed with it.
Key Terms To Understanding Open Source

open source
Generically, open source refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge, i.e., open.

Short for General Public License, the license that accompanies some open source software

Self-referentially, short for GNU's not UNIX, a UNIX-compatible software system developed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

Pronounced lee-nucks or lih-nucks. A freely-distributable open source operating system that runs on a number of hardware platforms.

Acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. (Pronounced guh-nome.) GNOME is part of the GNU project and part of the free software, or open source, movement.

Free Software Licensing

GPL - General Public License
Short for General Public License, GPL is the license that accompanies some open source software that details how the software and its accompany source code can be freely copied, distributed and modified. The most widespread use of GPL is in reference to the GNU GPL, which is commonly abbreviated simply as GPL when it is understood that the term refers to the GNU GPL. One of the basic tenets of the GPL is that anyone who acquires the material must make it available to anyone else under the same licensing agreement.  The GPL does not cover activities other than the copying, distributing and modifying of the source code.

All open source software is not distributed under the same licensing agreement. Some may use a free software license, a copyleft, or GPL compatible. The GNU GPL license is a free software license and a copyleft license, while a "GNU Lesser General Public License" is a free software license, but not a strong copyleft license. There are many different types of licenses for free software — some GNU GPL compatible, some not.

Programmers & Corporations - Why Invest in What is Free?

A software programmer really has his or her own reasons for contributing to open source projects. Some may just be looking for fun or a challenge, while others are looking to improve skill and build on their programming abilities, or they may want to belong to a group project. In many instances there is the opportunity to make money as open source projects can be funded by government or corporate sponsors. Unlike commercial projects, open source projects allow the programmer's name to be known, which benefits a programmer's name and portfolio — which can lead to future jobs with other funded open source or commercial projects.

The hype and benefits of open source has not gone unnoticed in the commercial world where some corporations have jumped on the open source bandwagon. Since commercial software is sold for profit, one may wonder why a company would be interested in open source projects. In many cases companies are able to profit through selling add-on tools or modules, or paid consulting services and technical support for the program.

Some Successful Open Source Projects

Sendmail is an open source mail transfer agent (MTA) used for routing and delivery e-mail. The original version of Sendmail was written by Eric Allman in the early 1980s. It is estimated that Sendmail is installed on 60 to 80 percent of the Internet's mail-server computers.

Apache Web server
Often referred to as simply Apache, a public-domain open source Web server developed by a loosely knit group of programmers. The first version of Apache, based on the NCSA httpd Web server, was developed in 1995. Core development of the Apache Web server is performed by a group of about 20 volunteer programmers, called the Apache Group. However, because the source code is freely available, anyone can adapt the server for specific needs, and there is a large public library of Apache add-ons.

(Pronounced lee-nucks or lih-nucks). A freely distributable open source operating system that runs on a number of hardware platforms. The Linux kernel was developed mainly by Linus Torvalds. Because it's free, and because it runs on many platforms, including PCs and Macintoshes, Linux has become an extremely popular alternative to proprietary operating systems.

Acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. (Pronounced guh-nome.) GNOME is part of the GNU project and part of the free software, or open source, movement. GNOME is a Windows-like desktop system that works on UNIX and UNIX-like systems and is not dependent on any one window manager. The current version runs on Linux, FreeBSD, IRIX and Solaris. The main objective of GNOME is to provide a user-friendly suite of applications and an easy-to-use desktop.

Did You Know...
The Open Source Definition was written by Bruce Perens as "The Debian Free Software Guidelines", and refined it using the comments of the Debian developers in a month-long e-mail conference in June, 1997. He removed the Debian-specific references from the document to create the "Open Source Definition."

Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: June 17, 2005

Related Links

Open Source Initiative
Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation dedicated to managing and promoting the Open Source Definition for the good of the community, specifically through the OSI Certified Open Source Software certification mark and program.

The GNU Operating System
The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete UNIX style operating system which is free software: the GNU system.

Open Source Applications Foundation
The Open Source Applications Foundation's goal is to create and gain wide adoption of Open Source application software of uncompromising quality.

SourceForge is an Open Source software development web site, providing free hosting to tens of thousands of projects. The mission of is to enrich the Open Source community by providing a centralized place for Open Source developers to control and manage Open Source software development.

GNU Project - Licensing
A listing of various licenses and comments about them.

Open Source Licenses
A directory of open source computer licenses from the Open Directory Project.

Do you have an interesting piece of computer-related trivia that you would like us to explore?
Tell us about it.

JupiterWeb networks:

Search JupiterWeb:

Jupitermedia Corporation has three divisions:
Jupiterimages, JupiterWeb and JupiterResearch

Legal Notices, Licensing, Reprints, & Permissions, Privacy Policy.

Jupitermedia Corporate Info | Newsletters | Tech Jobs | Shopping | E-mail Offers