Open Source

Posted on: April 5, 2011

Open Source

          It seems to me that open source software and hardware is yet one more thing in our world that has so much potential but once human nature takes over and greed enters the picture, it is it hard to decide if it is a blessing or a curse.

          The idea of grassroots programmers making these community minded programs for students or small businesses is hard to argue against.  It seems to be a great idea in a passing glance and we are a world who needs such things. Think about limited access to expensive programs for students, non for profit groups and those in developing areas. Also, think about businesses being able to use a low cost, customized program for their company that works efficiently for their specific business. The source of the controversy seems to come into play once individuals or groups start to want to benefit monetarily from using open source code to create a new/ improved program.

          The idea of not being able to claim your own work after you have created it because you have developed it using open source code seems to go against everything that open source was created to be in the first place; a place to share info and make advancements and further develop seedling ideas. Again, money seems to be the driving force behind the ethics of open source code. If the code is there for the sharing then once one changes it into something new, it seems fair to reason that it indeed becomes the creator’s own.  We all use the same alphabet and the same words but the ways in which writers put them together to make a book that is their own, is celebrated. Using open source to create a new or improved program could be seen as much of the same. Is the concept of personal gain from using open source code perhaps immoral given its grassroots beginnings? Perhaps. Is personal gain simply the nature of our capitalistic world?  Definitely!

          Open source certainly seems to be a cost effective route for non – profit, specialized industry and any other groups who would be interested in a unique program. I can for see many businesses and groups using this, if they have access to a programmer, they could easily customize a program for their company. These open source based programs wouldn’t need to have all of the unnecessary features found in many propriety programs for the masses and they also wouldn’t have the large price tag that comes along with a ‘do everything’ program.  I recently was the recipient of three netbooks for my classroom, all installed with Open Office on them.  I’m told all new computers going into the schools in the future will have Open Office as a money saving effort. In our world of purse tightening and cutting the fat it seems to me that open source products may very well be the way to go.

          I and many others enjoy the idea of supporting the ‘little guy’ or the underdog rather than supporting the large monopolizing groups such as Microsoft and Mac however, as a non – computer specialist, I also like the comfort and ease with which I can use these products. I think open source certainly could have applications to my life but I am not of the time or interest (or quite possibly ability?) to use and change open source material into something useful for myself. I like being able to turn on my computer and having it do everything I need it to do with the click of a mouse. I think this sentiment is echoed by many but there are certainly those who have the knowhow and interest who seek out open source material specifically so they can customize and use it to their full needs. Is this customizing practical for many or user friendly for the non- computer specialist? I’m not sure.

          The review and sharing nature of open source makes it seem more secure perhaps that closed source material where no one can see any hidden code or bugs. However, the flip side of open source is that perhaps a creator did embed a bug that is right out in the ‘open’ but unless one is a programmer, finding such a bug is impossible. For users such as financial institutions, health care users and other confidential matters this would be a concern if they were using open source code whereas at least with a propriety model there is some security in a well-known name or at least the front of perceived security. Until open source code programs become more user friendly and less intimidating for the computer novice, I don’t think we will see a huge change in the arenas that these sorts of products will be used. I think there will always be those who believe open source is the only pure use of code unaffected by the ‘establishment’ but that remains a niche pocket of programmers until open source code is less of a mystery to the average consumer.


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