What Is Open Source? - InformationWeek

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11/2/2004
05:03 PM
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What Is Open Source?

As the controversy over open-source software drags on, I thought it might be helpful to take a step back and explain what open source is and how it works. Open source programming is much more organized than its name and image convey. The open source community actually consists of hundreds of thousands of programmers worldwide who sign up to work on different projects. Their ideas and their own coding prowess are their passports to any project. If the project has already been established, the pro

As the controversy over open-source software drags on, I thought it might be helpful to take a step back and explain what open source is and how it works. Open source programming is much more organized than its name and image convey. The open source community actually consists of hundreds of thousands of programmers worldwide who sign up to work on different projects. Their ideas and their own coding prowess are their passports to any project. If the project has already been established, the programmer organizing the project can either accept or reject a fellow programmer's ideas and code.The level of organization depends upon the project and its participants. Linux is guided by a group of administrators led by the operating system's original creator, Linus Torvalds. Torvalds now does his work through the Open Source Development Lab a non-profit organization for developing enterprise-class Linux whose founding members include Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. The Apache Software Foundation is a membership-based, not-for-profit corporation that exists to provide organizational, legal, and financial support for a group of open-source software projects that includes the Apache HTTP Server Project.

Programmers can choose from a variety of different licenses for their projects. One of the most popular is the General Public License, which seeks to keep any code developed within the open source community available to all open source programmers. The GPL permits open-source code to be sold for profit, as long as that code is made freely available to other open-source programmers. Companies that develop new applications using open source software modules don't have to share their work with the rest of the open-source community, as long as they don't attempt to profit off of code they've gotten from the community.

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