A Beginner’s Guide to Open Source

Why Use Open Source Software?

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This video segment summarizes popular reasons people cite for using OSS software.


  • Transparency
  • user rights
  • tinkering
  • portability
  • strategy
  • hiring

About this video

Karl Beecher
First online
03 December 2018
Online ISBN
Copyright information
© Karl Beecher 2019

Video Transcript

Karl Beecher: Now that you understand how open source basically works, you’re in a better position to understand why people elects to use it. We’ll round off this video by exploring some reasons why people and organizations prefer to use and develop Open Source Software. The first thing to make clear is that there are many types of reasons why people prefer Open Source Software. One type we might call moral reasons. From the open source viewpoint, a software user has certain rights. You have the right to find out exactly what a program is doing, what it executes. So much in today’s society is run by software from their calculation of your taxes to determining whether you were speeding. And that raises many questions. Does it do what it claims to do? Does it do other things it never mentions? Does it access resources it shouldn’t? Is it spying on you and phoning home with information?

Is its security deliberately compromised to allow unintended access to the manufacturer later? Questions like these are almost impossible to answer without being able to inspect the source code. You also have the right to tinker. An open source program is your program. It should do the things the way you want it to. Adding your own features, fixing problems, making it more efficient. These two are all things you should be able to do and are made possible when you have the program’s source code. You also have the right, some would say the duty, to share your improvements with others. According to the open source view, no one may deny you the right to distribute copies of the code yourself. Now, some users are not so much interested in the moral aspects as they are in the practical aspects. And practical reasons for using open source are plentiful. For one thing, it’s often easily and readily available.

Most projects maintain a public presence on the net where you can download executable versions of the program and access a copy of the source code. For another, the ready availability of the code makes open source programs very portable, but often available for a wide variety of operating systems. Unlike much proprietary software, it will help us tend to target only a subset of platforms that make the most economic sense for them. And let’s not forget, it’s usually available free of charge which means no more worrying about “try before you buy.” There are also reasons more to do with long-term gains what we could call strategic reasons. Using Open Source Software doesn’t make you dependent on a single vendor. The schedule of bug fixes and security of dates are not determined by the original author schedule. Any user can fix them including you.

This also mitigates the risk of your program being orphaned when the manufacturer abandons the product or goes out of business leaving no one else to support you. For many people, the ability to get involved in a program development is an important strategic advantage. You can file bug reports and feature requests and talk directly with the programmers when doing so. If you have the ability, you can contribute to the project whether it’s codes, documentation, artwork, you name it. In fact, with many open source projects, the more you get involved, the more you can influence the future cause of the project. And going beyond just usage, many organizations use open source to give them the edge in the marketplace. By releasing their products as open source, companies have goals such as attracting development talent to help improve the product or spreading their product wide to help establish it as a market leader or even the de facto standard in their market segment.