Some software has source code that only the person, team, or organization who created it—and maintains exclusive control over it—can modify. People call this kind of software “proprietary” or “closed source” software. Only the original authors of proprietary software can legally copy, inspect, and alter that software.
Open source software is different. Its authors make its source code available to others who would like to view that code, copy it, learn from it, alter it, or share it. Open source technology and open source thinking both benefit programmers and non-programmers.
People prefer open source software to proprietary software for a number of reasons, including:
Control. They can examine the code to make sure it’s not doing anything they don’t want it to do, and they can change parts of it they don’t like.
Training. Students can easily study it as they learn to make better software. Students can also share their work with others, inviting comment and critique, as they develop their skills.
Security. Because so many programmers can work on a piece of open source software without asking for permission from original authors, they can fix, update, and upgrade open source software more quickly than they can proprietary software.
Stability. Because programmers publicly distribute the source code for open source software, it won’t disappear if their original creators stop working on them.
Open source can not only be a way to develop and license computer software, but also an attitude. Approaching all aspects of life “the open source way” means expressing a willingness to share, collaborating with others in ways that are transparent, embracing failure as a means of improving, and expecting—even encouraging—everyone else to do the same.