Open-source software is free to use, copy, distribute, and modify according to its author’s copyright and license. Volunteer developers, testers, and others have formed international ‘communities’ that create, maintain, and support open-source software. This article first presents examples of open-source software, and then focuses on its pros and cons for users.
The open-source movement can benefit all of us. For two expressions of this philosophy, see these links:
- Mozilla Manifesto
- Building Profitable Solutions for People
Open Source Software Examples
Familiar open-source-software examples include OpenOffice.org, Linux, and Mozilla.
OpenOffice.org – OpenOffice.org is “the free and open productivity suite” from Sun Microsystems (probably soon part of Oracle). Oracle plans to continue developing and supporting OpenOffice.org as open-source software. For more information, see the OpenOffice.org website.
OpenOffice.org includes the following applications:
- Writer – An excellent word-processor that is nearly as powerful as Microsoft Word for most users who perform most writing tasks.
- Calc – A fine spreadsheet application that nearly matches Microsoft Excel.
- Impress – A multimedia presentation program.
- Draw – A graphics program.
- Base – A database program.
Linux – Linux is an open-source operating system that is available through multiple distributions. For more information, see the Linux website.
Linux distributions include:
Note: Although most Linux distributions are free, you need to pay for some, such as Redhat or Mandriva Powerpack 2010. However, these commercial Linux distributions are much less expensive than Microsft Windows.
Mozilla – Mozilla is an international community and corporation dedicated to both open-source software and an open internet. For more information, see the Mozilla website.
Mozilla’s most popular open-source applications include:
- Firebird – A very popular web browser that is almost as powerful as Microsoft Internet Explorer and almost as fast as Google Chrome.
- Thunderbird – A modern email application that lets you open multiple emails in tabbed pages.
Advantages of Open Source Software
Open-source software advantages include low cost, high security, stable features, and frequent upgrades.
Low Cost – The primary advantage of open-source software is its low cost, which is usually $0.00. In contrast, commercial software companies charge increasing prices for their products because they need to spend increasing profit percentages to protect against software piracy. This has caused a regenerative closed loop in which increased prices tempt increased piracy. Moreover, all this added ‘protection’ code places extra burdens on our computers, thereby slowing them.
High Security – Many developers continually maintain open-source software. Therefore, they find and repair bugs quickly, which virtually eliminates security vulnerabilities.
Stable Programs – Open-source software products seldom cause older programs to cease working. For example, the Linux operating system supports almost all programs ever written for it. In contrast, Microsoft often ‘advances’ its products so much that they stop ‘playing nice’ with other Microsoft products. For example, early Windows Vista did not allow Office XP to work correctly. That problem alone caused many people to start the exodus toward open-source software.
Frequent Upgrades – Most open-source software includes free, easy-to-install, frequent upgrades. For example, you can install the newest free version of Ubuntu far more easily than you can install the newest version of Microsoft Windows.
Disadvantages of Open Source Software
Open-source software disadvantages include relatively few features, steep learning curves, and scattered support. However, these shortcomings seem to diminish almost monthly.
Relatively Few Features – Open-source software does not yet have all the features available in commercial software. For example:
- The OpenOffice.org Writer application does not include a grammar checker.
- Free Linux distributions, as downloaded, do not let you play copy-protected DVDs.
Steep Learning Curves – Open-source software, while similar to Windows and Mac software, requires your time and effort to learn some new skills. For example:
- In the OpenOffice.org Writer application, you need to learn a new index-creation procedure.
- In a Linux distribution, you need to learn new software-installation procedures.
Limited Support – Support for open-source software is less available than support for commercial software. When searching for support, try starting with the ‘community’s’ website. For example, OpenOffice.org provides links to Free Community Support for OpenOffice.org.
While searching for an answer to a particularly difficult question, you might feel as though you are ‘drowning’ in the web instead of ’surfing’ on it. If you are very new, or stuck, you might consider paying for commercial support if it is available for your open-source software. For example, you can purchase Ubuntu Services from Canonical.