How Open Source Software Is The Unsung Hero For Millennials
If there is one tool that defines everyday life for millennials, it is our trustworthy laptops. We use them every day, be it for work, studying or entertainment, on the go while we commute and on Friday nights to stream movies. How much do we know about the software that goes into our computers and makes them capable of performing every task we ask of them? Whether you find yourself among the more IT-savvy people out there or are newly initiated in modern technologies, there is a concept that you need to know to understand the world of software better: open source software.
The Origins of Sharing Knowledge Online
Wikipedia, which is free to use and editable by users, has established itself as one of the most looked up reference works online since it launched in 2001. Everyone who has been a university student in the past few years knows of the debate within academia about open access to knowledge – and you must have heard something about the recent trends of sharing economies, even if it has nothing to do with your day job. Open source software is a concept that follows in similar footsteps – or rather, leads, as it was one of the pioneers in sharing innovation and knowledge freely, along with relying on users to improve open source products.
The software relies on a code to run, and developers create a code – so, naturally, many companies like Microsoft and Apple that invest funds into building code for their software do not want to share their secrets with the rest of professionals out there. This means that they produce their software, including the operating systems that most computers run on, namely Windows and MacOS, as closed systems. In those systems, the user is forbidden from accessing or tampering with the code, even if it is for improving it, while you are also prohibited from sharing it with others. Companies that operate like this hope to retain revenue through their exclusive right to their code, from distribution up to who can fix your laptop if your software crashes down on a deep level.
What Is Open Source – and How Is It Useful for Us?
For proponents of open source software, closing down code is the unnatural way of doing this. They believe that, due to its peculiar nature, a code should be accessed freely, so that it could be experimented with and amended by a lot more people than the initial developers who worked on it – in essence, that the more people get involved, the better the results. According to the definition provided by the Open Source Initiative, founded in 1998 and generally considered an authority on the issue, open software is interlinked with freedom and neutrality. For example, even any derivative works must be distributed under open source license, and any open source product must be neutral about technology and not discriminate against individuals, groups of people or types of activity. Open source software should not be confused with free software, as there is an even deeper conceptual divide going on within the developer community.
In both cases, however, free does not necessarily refer to free from cost – although there are quite a few open source software products out there that are free to download, too. Yet many open source programs are released as commercial products. In 2017 alone, revenue from open source software reached more than €54.29 billion ($66.84 billion), significantly up from over €51 billion (almost $63 billion) in 2016. It is projected to reach almost €56 billion (roughly $69 billion) in 2018 and over €57.32 (over $70 billion) by 2020. Many well-known products that we use daily while surfing is open source, like popular internet browser Mozilla Firefox. In fact, Mozilla pledges roughly $3 million per year to support open source and free software, including giving more than $150,000 to TOR, an open project that works against network surveillance.
Other open source products are more geared towards specialists, like programming languages Rust or R (a GNU free software project), or tools like HAProxy (High Availability Proxy). HAProxy is an open source proxy and load balancing server software that runs on runs on Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris (all three operating systems that are part of the free software movement) and improves a system’s speed and performance by distributing workload across multiple servers. Software like Ubuntu and Linux is meant to be not only open source but also free for all, in the sense that anyone can download it, install it, redistribute it and change it.
Chrome, OpenOffice, and Android, which power most smartphones across the globe, were also built based on Linux – so, sometimes, end users can also benefit from open source programs because they allow other more popular and widely used products to develop that is based on their code, just as the open source pioneers intended.
So, next time you use your smartphone or a favorite browser like Chrome or Mozilla to surf the web, think of all the effort that goes into developing this powerful software – and how, sometimes, the best (and most useful) results come when this effort is shared.