Most of us at some point have used open source software, whether we knew it or not. You’re using open source software right now. WordPress is an open source software. Currently I’m typing this on a Firefox browser. Firefox is also open source. I’m sure at some point you’ve been recommended to use Open Office if you can’t afford Microsoft, and I’m sure you’ve heard of Linux and Ubuntu if you haven’t used it yourself. In some of my IT classes we even used things like GIMP and Blender for image and graphic design stuff. At some point, all of us have used Open Source software.
How many of us know what that means, though?
What is Open Source?
According to the Open Source Initiative, there are 10 points that must be met for something to truly be Open Source.
1. Free Redistribution
The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
2. Source Code
The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
3. Derived Works
The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.
4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code
The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
7. Distribution of License
The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product
The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.
9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software
The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.
10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral
No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.
Why is this significant?
Robert Steel tells us in his book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust,
“We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making. Power was centralized in the hands of increasingly specialized ‘elites’ and ‘experts’ who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted.”
Steele’s point is a valid one if we look at society as we know it. In the prehistoric past, societies were reliant upon the idea of working together for a communal good. This was the only way a group of people could survive. This all changed over time as the concept of power and a division of power arose from the advancement of societies to a point that it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have a ‘communal good’ for the society to continue to function. The idea of how society works became one about class and separation of powerful from the powerless. Even though we in today’s modern, democratic societies claim ‘equality and freedom’, there is no denying that there are the powerful elites and the less powerful lower members of society.
Steele tells us that,
Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realize such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth – all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity.
What Steele says is true. The only way to truly combat inequality in the future and work towards a common good for all of humanity is through free exchange of ideas and access to technology.
Now we get to the ‘but’…
But, as expected, Open Source doesn’t make the type of money that people want to make, and instead, it takes away from the paid software if the Open Source alternative is comparable in quality. Take a look at the past Microsoft has had with Open Source. There will always be a large amount of blow back against anything that challenges the status quo and threatens capitalism.
The question we’re left with is the same one that I asked: Is Open Source really the future?
According to the annual Future of Open Source Survey, the uphill battle may be leveling out just a little, because the use of Open Source software is growing and growing with very little to suggest this upward trend will be stopped by the makers of proprietary tech.
Overall, the use of open source software (OSS) increased in 65 percent of companies surveyed. The reasons given for using OSS include: quality of solutions, competitive features, and the ability to customize and fix the software. Additionally, 90 percent of this year’s respondents say that open source improves efficiency, interoperability, and innovation.
The results also show that,
Looking ahead, respondents say that, in the next 2-3 years, the main revenue-generating business models for open source vendors will be: software-as-a-service (46 percent); custom development (42 percent), and services/support (41 percent).
It seems that the answer to the initial question is yes. Open Source is the future, and little can be done to change that projection.