Thursday, September 01, 2005

What is Free and/or Open Source Software?

Software that is developed openly by a community of programmers may look like a chaotic process close-up, but produces extremely stable results long-term--comparable to the processes of democracy and open-market economies. Linux is just one example of thousands of computer programs that have been “copy-lefted,” a licensing process that immediately puts the program's code into the public domain while at the same time guaranteeing it will stay publicly available. (Sometimes called “share and share alike”). The GNU General Public License, originally written by Richard Stallman, is the most popular of this type of license. The different movements which are generally referred to as “Free and Open Source Software” are motivated by both altruism and pragmatism; by a belief that the ability to work together to create and build upon computer code benefits both the programmer (who can produce better software by not having to start from scratch) and the ultimate users of the software (who get better software). Recent studies have shown open-source software to have many fewer coding errors than proprietary software because of the process of peer review that takes place in the development process. The most widely known example of an Open Source software program is the Apache web server software, which runs over 70% of the world's websites.
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