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Open Source

Todd from MI asks:

I read all the time about “open source” this and “open source” that. What the heck does “open source” mean, anyways?

Hey, Todd – good question!

Basically, the term “open source”  is used to describe a program or app where the author(s) gives the public access to the source code. Although some companies aren’t thrilled with this concept, many terrific pieces of software are open source (the Linux operating system, Mozilla Firefox and the Ogg Vorbis sound file format come to mind).

Since the code is freely distributed, the software is also (generally) free as well. If you want support, that will sometimes carry a fee – the author has to pay the rent somehow, right? That said, there are usually lots of resources out there for large, open source programs. Your friendly neighborhood search engine can help with that and most open source programs have a Wiki [1] to reference as well!

The idea behind writing software like this is you get input, code, and improvements from lots (hundreds? thousands?) of different programmers. Not an easy task for a single company to copy. As such, the program evolves rapidly and tends to have fewer bugs (and that’s always good).

Just imagine if Windows was open source…

~ Steve