How open source tech is changing the world

Open source is unrivalled in cost, flexibility, freedom, security and community, and has seen massive growth and acceptance in business.

Read time 4min 30sec
Jessie Rudd.
Jessie Rudd.

Open source software (OSS) has been around for some time now, yet the benefits it can offer to a business are often overlooked.

Open source is software in which the source code that was used to create the program is freely available for the public to view, edit, transform and redistribute. As such, any type of software program can be open source, including and not limited to operating systems (eg, Linux), databases (eg, PostgreSQL), applications (eg, OpenOffice.org), games and programming languages (eg, Python).

OSS is identified by the type of licence it is released under. The licences OSS is released under are very specific and include the Apache 2.0 licence, Microsoft Public Licence and GNU General Public Licence. There may be a few variations; however, most open source licences require that the source code be freely available to everyone and users are free to modify the source code and redistribute the software and derived works at will.

So how has open source, collaborative software changed the world and why should we be paying attention?

Perhaps the biggest, most widely distributed and reliable example of OSS is Linux. Initially created and coined by Linus Torvalds in 1991, Linux has become the brainchild of many different contributors over the years and is a powerful example of just how much OSS has changed our world for the better.

Consider for a moment the fact that the top 500 supercomputers in the world all run on Linux. That is inconceivable to me. How collaborative software can successfully and seamlessly go from a footnote, to supercomputer domination in the space of about 10 years.

The community behind open source is unmatched in numbers, passion, knowledge and initiative.

Open source also powers Android (via a Linux operating system), arguably the most popular and stable mobile operating system in the world, and is one of the more popular server options for remote access cloud-based services.

Open source even runs the Internet. Some of the most basic and necessary functions of the Internet are built on open source technologies with a Linux operating system which regulates the operation of Web servers. An Apache Web server application then negotiates the data transfer between the worldwide server infrastructure and personal devices. Innumerable Internet and Android applications are also open source. This proves why open source technology is so important.

Open source, at its heart, was born from the technology community. Since the very beginning, programmers and engineers have developed new technologies through collaboration. Take for example a programmer sitting behind his desk in Cape Town. He develops a new application and, because he has opted for an open source software development cycle, a programmer in Malta can study the application and suggest or discover ways to improve it. Intrinsic and overt knowledge is shared, and a whole community benefits from the collective innovation.

This level of open collaboration encourages innovation and a very particular way of thinking between likeminded individuals. The 'open source way' is a way of enabling people to further their own interests while also contributing those interests back to a common whole, and a common good. Without collaboration like this, many of the technologies we take for granted today would never have developed. Or worse yet, those technologies would be hidden behind patent law and inaccessible to the majority.

Considering this, one must ask, does open source benefit business in any way?

How can it not, when embraced fully? The community behind open source is unmatched in numbers, passion, knowledge and initiative. OSS is more likely to provide what the end-user needs because the very people making it are quite often also end-users. In fact, many businesses choose open source solutions for its technical superiority. It is unrivalled in cost, flexibility, freedom, security and community, and has seen massive growth and acceptance in the business world. Some examples include:

* Security: Linus's Law: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." With open source, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people looking at and testing a piece of code. The likelihood that a problem will be noticed, fixed, and fixed quickly increases exponentially.

* Flexibility: Open source software is inherently flexible. It can be adapted to a specific business or business need with little to no fuss or cost implication.

* Cost: Open source is mostly free. All the benefits, at a fraction (if any at all) of the cost. It is no secret that proprietary software can cost a fortune and will set you back millions before you even get off the starting block.

These are only a few of the most obvious benefits. There are so many more.

So, if you have a bit of an appetite for the unexpected, for cost saving measures, for flexibility and security - for an open source way of life - what is stopping you from investing in open source now?

Jessie Rudd
Technical business analyst at PBT Group

Jessie Rudd is a technical business analyst at PBT Group, a position she has held since 2011. In this role, she is responsible for combining data analysis assignments and researching new technologies in this space. Rudd holds training in IT (computer management) and has been exposed to a number of industries over the past 10 years, including BI, financial services, retail, market research, as well as corporate functions such as call centres, human resources and IT. This broad experience allows her to grasp the complexity attached to converting data into intelligence. Rudd has a passion for investigating new technologies and making others aware of them, as well as finding the most efficient tools for successfully undertaking a required task.

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