To Emphasize Openness

To Emphasize Openness

Ken Hartness (Sam Houston State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/jagr.2012040101
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Although open source software has existed, in a sense, throughout the history of computing, it has only more recently become recognized as a valid means of producing professional-quality software. Although primarily conceived as a zero-cost alternative to commercial software, open source software also supports customization and verification as a result of the software being available to all users in human-readable form. The availability of free software supports both researchers with limited budgets and those who seek to confirm the findings of researchers or use similar methods in related research.
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To Emphasize Openness

In the golden age of commercial software, it is not unusual to pay between a hundred and a thousand dollars for popular software. More specialized software can be quite a bit more. These prices do not entitle the customer to customization of the product to their needs and current operating procedures. Custom software developed just for one customer is even more expensive. On the other hand, computer owners can download a version of the Linux operating system, legally, for no charge. is a suite of tools similar to those in commercially available office packages, including a word processor and spreadsheet tool. While the concept of open source software is not new, the more recent success and dependability of open source products has forced companies to take them seriously. Companies that previously were jealously protective of their software secrets, like IBM, are now embracing the open source design methodology and releasing professional-quality software as “open source.” Schools and individuals on tight budgets are able to legally copy productive software tools at no charge.

Although the phrase “open source” is often used as synonymous with the word “free,” the phrase, itself, actually conveys the idea that any user of a program should be able to examine the inner workings of the software and modify it to better suit the user's needs. This quality of openness is valuable to auditors and scientists who seek to validate the results produced by a piece of software. Organizations and individuals needing customized software can use related open source software as a starting point instead of paying programmers to create the software from scratch. Although the phrase “open source” only requires that the software be available in a form that can be read, customized, and extended by computer programmers, globally open software is often available free of charge or for a nominal fee to cover creation and distribution of a DVD-ROM.

The open source community makes a distinction between “free” software and other forms of “open source” software (Scacchi, 2007). The Free Software Foundation considers software to be free if its source code, the human-readable description of its nature and capabilities, is freely available to all users and is only used to create free software. Note that their GNU General Public License (GPL) does not object to the software being sold commercially or otherwise incorporated into a commercial product. However, any product incorporating GPL software must, itself, fall under the GPL; as such, the creators of the commercial product must make the source code available to any and all users and cannot tell those users what they can and cannot do with the software with one exception; they cannot violate the GPL and restrict the freedom of others (Free Software Foundation, 2007). Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for a company to sell free software for $1,000 and equally acceptable for one of its customers to post the source code on their web page. Naturally, this tends to limit the expense of a commercial product under the GPL, although many people are willing to pay for convenient installation and support. Other open source licenses allow the open source software to be combined with commercially-developed, proprietary software; although the open source software remains available to its users, the other elements of the product can remain secret. The Free Software Foundation is part of a social movement that embraces the free exchange of ideas and insists upon this free exchange in GPL applications. Open source is a software design methodology where, potentially, any user can make a contribution to the final product. Developers working under a license other than the GPL may occasionally choose to compromise and combine open source software with proprietary software in an effort to create a quality product. “More simply, free software is always OSS [open source software], but OSS is not always free” (Scacchi, 2007, p. 459).

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