Open Source Software

Have you ever been to an amateur concert or theatre performance and come away thinking that it was every bit as good as a professional performance? Quite possibly you have and the reason is probably quite simple, namely that the people were doing it for the sheer love of what they were doing rather than just as a job. If you are wondering why I ask this question, I will come back to it a little later.

Most of us are used to using proprietary software, namely that which has been produced by a commercial company and sold at a price. The Windows operating system is a case in point, as are many other products some of which, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, dominate the market and may be seen as state of the art. A commercial product will normally come with strict licensing restrictions, e.g. limiting its installation and use to a single user and/or a given number of computers.

Many of you will have heard of open source software but may not be totally familiar with the idea. Open source software is fundamentally different from commercial software. The most obvious difference is that it is free, which means free to use and free to distribute free of charge. The term “open source” indicates another important attribute, namely that the program source code is made available to the user, and the user is free to change this for his/her own requirements given the necessary skills and is free to distribute the modified version. A well known case in point is the Linux operating system. Open source software still normally comes with a licence, but with the main prohibition that the one thing that the user is not allowed to do is to sell it.

The fact that a program is free does not necessarily mean that it is lacking in quality. This is where my illustration of the amateur performance comes in. In the same way there are programmers out there, doing it for the love of what they are doing and/or serving the community at large. I am a strong supporter of the concept of open source software. Don’t get me wrong here however – I fully appreciate that by buying commercial software, one is putting money into the economy and helping to keep people in jobs. The professional environment will no doubt continue to do that, in order to enjoy the full benefit of the high end facilities of programs like Office and Photoshop.

There is however another side to all of this. In the world of computing and internet, which is becoming increasingly dominated by large corporations such as Microsoft, Goggle & Apple, open source software is all about freedom of choice to the user. For example, why should everyone have to use Windows and be forced down a route of doing things just the way that Microsoft wants? I appreciate that for the average home user, the easiest option is going to be to buy a computer off the shelf, pre-installed with Windows, but for the more serious user the things I have discussed here are definitely worth some consideration.

I will discuss in a subsequent article more about how I have put this into practice on my own computer.

As a Christian I have always found it helpful to use everyday things and situations to illustrate spiritual truths. Click here to read my follow-on article from this one about open source software.