A Brief Description of Open Source Including Its Origins, What Makes It Unique, and It's Strengths and Weaknesses
Open-source software refers to any program designed to be run using a computer, which has been provided with the "source" code for users to utilize, change, and distribute without the need for licensing or payment for usage. Today there are many projects which fall into this category and the various forms in which you can find open-source software can range from operating systems to video game modifications. Open-source is not a specific type of software, but rather it is a classification to make a distinction between software which is produced and licensed by a company that holds the rights to distribution, and software which is "open" for general use of the public.
Origin and Creators
The concept of creating and distributing software for free was common in the beginning of software development. A majority of the software, which was not developed by the government under classified conditions, was being created and used by academia. With a limited user base, and an inconsistent operating environment for computer users of the 50s and 60s, providing source code became essential for anyone to be able to use the code which was being written.
One example which is credited as being the earliest example of open-source software comes from the mother of machine-independent programming languages; Grace Brewster Murray. Her work on and subsequent release of the A-2 compiler tool is considered to be the earliest open-source release of software.
Model, Philosophy, and Culture
An open-source project begins when software users from various backgrounds identify problems to be solved in their work, entertainment, hobby, or any other activity via a computer. These issues are either brought to the attention of programmers or the discoverer decides to begin writing code. Eventually, the individual(s) or company creates a new piece of software and at some point, they decide to make it available to the public. Once this is done, contributions from various backgrounds can add their own code to build upon the prior work.
Every project is different, but for most projects, there is formal governance that is established to protect the os project. The reason for this is to prevent random contributions from editing the program in a way that could produce bugs or even prevent the software from working. Those who are in charge of the official releases of the software decide what contributions will and will not be published as the latest version.
It is central to open-source culture that people maintain a giving mentality otherwise a project can lose support and fall into disarray. Sometimes projects are deprecated and see no additional releases, but for most projects, as long as there is one person who is willing to devote their time and energy to furthering development then it can live on indefinitely.
The Past, Present, and Future of Open-Source
Once the operating systems on electronic computers began to become standardized for mass user markets, the idea of os software began to fall out of favor. Companies realized the profit potential of the emerging software market and the open-source community became the minority.
Today there has been a resurgence in the number of contributions and users of open-source software. With the advent of the internet the overhead of disks and hard software transfer systems disappeared, and people we able to easily transfer files via upload/download from their home computer. Websites like Github offered a new co-operative platform for sharing, collaborating, and managing these projects with little to no cost for developers.
As a commodity, software has entered a stage of ubiquity where the cost to create it has become so negligible that anyone can create it and distribute it. Because of the availability and nimbleness of these projects, they have become a viable alternative to proprietary software for even large corporations to adopt. Now that companies have begun sponsoring these free projects, and companies like Quansight are helping them to organize and grow, it is assured that open-source is quickly becoming the standard for the future.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The biggest drawback to os software at this point is that there is a lack of coordination of efforts between projects. With so many groups and organizations working on projects, sometimes, people end up doubling or quadrupling efforts by not utilizing the work already done by other projects. Furthermore, many projects which lack funding find it difficult to get organized in a way that gives potential industry users confidence that the project will be able to continue in the long term. This is especially the case for projects maintained by a single programmer, who when they no longer have time to work on it, may eventually just drop the project with no one else in mind to pick up the proverbial tourch.
Arguably among the greatest strengths of os software is the inherent altruistic nature of creating something solely for the purpose of gaining access to a tool that you or someone else needs. The birth of an open-source project is almost always due to the need for a better solution to a software problem. Without the drive to make money off of the effort, the project can theoretically remain pure in intention and allows for a perpetual invitation for those with better ideas to share them. Collaboration in open-source communities will forever be the deciding factor between the improvements that can take place with paid software and the ability for everyday users and maintainers to cultivate their creativity.
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