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Open Source refers to software source code which is openly accessible and which can be changed and distributed by anyone. The open source initiative stipulates ten requirements for open source software licenses.
The source code of a software is made public: anyone can read it, develop the software itself, and copy the code. The software may be used or distributed by anyone free of charge. No additional license is required at any time. Open source software is therefore an alternative to paid, commercial software.
Examples of well-known open source software include LibreOffice and OpenOffice for document creation, the image processing program GIMP, and Audacity, with which audio data can be edited. The development environment Eclipse and the operating system Ubuntu are also open source software. Other open source programs are OpenOffice and Bootstrap.
A big advantage for users (private individual or company) is that no license fees have to be paid. You also are not dependent on the provider. There are a lot of other advantages on developer pages. Because the code is read by many independent developers, any abuse of the software would be immediately apparent. Any part of the software containing malicious code would be discovered quickly, which is why open source software is very secure.
Even small errors in the software can be fixed very quickly, since many independent programmers can indicate mistakes to each other and discuss problems together. Moreover, users can adapt a program to their needs. You can simply extend the code and expand the software with your own function.
Users cannot rely on the fact that open source software will be (rapidly) further developed, since the projects have little financial resources. Support is another big drawback. The developers work on the projects voluntarily and therefore only in their spare time.
Thus, there is no developer company that offers permanent support and the people who can provide support rarely have time to do so. One solution are forums on the Internet and companies which do not develop the software, but specialize in support for it. They earn their money with professional support for free software.
Not every open source software will have the same quality. There are big differences and there is not an open source option available in every area. However, numerous programs are already able to keep up with the competition and have integrated themselves into the working world. The project Open Usability strives to make open source software more user-friendly and thus increase their quality.
Open Source vs. Free software
“Open source” and “free software” are essentially the same. The term “free software” is older (1985) and comes from the Free Software Foundation. The Open Source Initiative launched the term “open source” in 1998. The idea of freely accessible software is the same, only the motivation behind it is different. In open source, it is the practical benefit derived from the joint development of software. The concept of free software is based on the ideology behind it and the benefit for the users.