Open source software is software that is not bound by proprietary licensing. It can be freely modified and distributed provided that the originators of the source code are given credit. The example most often associated with open source software is the Linux operating system (OS). The source code that is compiled to create the OS is freely available for examination and modification. Contrast this with another common OS like Microsoft Vista, where the user is only allowed use of the software and cannot modify the source code. Open source software is used by businesses, schools, and private individuals.
At the individual level, open source software has been called a “tinkerer’s software” because a lot of software development is done in an open and collaborative environment. The source code can be downloaded, modified, and tested on a single person’s computer. That user can then report their findings or results to any and all interested parties, usually a forum or development group. If warranted, the modification can be incorporated into future versions and if not, the user is still free to keep whatever modifications they see fit. Anyone who is not interested in modifying source code can still benefit since they are free to use the software.
Open source software is a widely adopted class of software. It is robust, flexible, and established as a viable alternative to closed source software. There are many experts who support open source development without charge and there are entire lines of business built around supporting open source software. Anyone who is new to the concept of open source will find numerous sources of reference on the subject.