What is the Open Source Movement?20 Aug 2010
A lot of people ask me what is Open Source Software (OSS)? Some think OSS is a communist hippie plot sent to destroy modern day capitalism, others believe it to be a blessing sent from on high to banish the evil software companies that charge way too much for something they can make unlimited copies of with very little to no expense.
No matter what your view, Open Source software is basically free software that you can use without having to worry about paying for a license and you can even make changes to make it better if you know how. There are plenty of great technical books out there about OSS, many in an attempt to remain timeless usually discuss the ideas behind the software without really going into the nitty gritty parts of why it’s so useful and that was my purpose in writing this book. I wanted a way to explain this technology to people who weren’t already immersed in the world or business of computers and give you a better understanding of what’s out there. So whether you are a novice or an expert, I hope this book is helpful as you learn about OSS.
My view of Open Source is a little different than mainstream, much like the Internet I believe open source is a great tool to level the playing field. Just think about it, a small group of programmers can get together and build something that is just as great if not better than what the guys from Redmond and others would charge billions of dollars for. If properly implemented, companies can save millions if not billions of dollars in software or even hardware costs and every day folks can save hundreds on not having to pay for name brand. Many large companies love Open Source because many of the programmers who work on the code are not employees but people who do it out of a love for the product or because they know that people will really get some use out of it. There is one unmistakable truth about OSS, that is it’s forcing people to look more closely at how much they spend on software but for just that reason alone it’s here to stay.
There are plenty of books out there that also discuss the history of the Free Software Foundation and other OSS organizations, for now I will try to only touch on some of the history. To understand Open Source Software (OSS) one must understand the concept of a commodity. For decades people have used commodities as a means to buy the same product from multiple producers or vendors in order to keep prices low and so that they are not completely dependent on a single supplier. An example is when you go to the store to buy milk, the milk you buy today may be from a completely different farm than the milk you buy tomorrow. The grocery store chain or the company that supplies the grocer may buy milk from a different farm or producer on different days depending on who can offer the cheapest price. Regulations on certain food items as well as market demands has made milk an almost standard product across the board so it doesn’t matter whom you buy it from, the product usually tastes the same.
This process of making a standardized product is called a commodity and many businesses use this as a means to keep expenses down while still providing a low cost product or service to its customers. The invention of mass production in the early 20th century allowed for an even greater ability to create commodity products because products could be standardized in large numbers ultimately reducing their cost. Almost every industry has some kind of commodity component to it so whether you are buying parts for your car or purchasing furniture for your house, a commodity allows you to focus on the price of an item knowing that some level of quality will be there. Open Source Software is ultimately turning software into a commodity and though this may ruin the software industry to some extent, it will boom the field of technology in a great way.
Now you also have to understand that when something becomes a commodity, something else that is tied to it becomes priceless and necessary for the use of that commodity. When milk was commodity, it helped the cereal industry to boom because Kellogg’s and others could provide a great cereal without worrying about the quality of the milk being served with it. In a similar way the computer industry is plagued with a history of components that became commodities and made other things valuable.