Your simple guide to Open Source technology

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

Have I mentioned Open Source to you before?

I have? Good. I am going to tell you all about it again anyway, just for laughs.

So what exactly is Open Source? In its simplest terms, it means the source code (that nitty gritty stuff developers use to create software) is freely available for others to use and modify, however they see fit. Usually that comes with the condition that it remains Open Source, so that everyone can benefit. You can read the full definition of Open Source here:

What does this mean in practice? First and foremost, it means that unlike traditional software development that is done behind closed doors and with the windows barred and by a small team, Open Source software development by its nature has many eye balls on it all of the time. Anyone can submit bug fixes or improvements and this generally translates into fixes and improvements happening at a much faster rate. Security vulnerabilities and exploits are usually fixed quickly too, which is good for everyone.

To bring this into perspective, Google’s Project Zero ( recently revealed two major security vulnerabilities in the Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems. They detected the vulnerabilities back in October 2014 and following standard procedures gave Microsoft 90 days to patch the vulnerabilities before releasing details to the public. Sadly for Microsoft they failed to secure the vulnerabilities in time and so Google revealed the information to the world. We can draw two things from this. 1) Major vulnerabilities should not take such a long time to patch and the public will likely assume that internal priorities and resource limits are to blame. 2) If the affected operating systems were Open Source, then they would likely have been patched shortly after the initial notification about the vulnerabilities.

So Open Source means bugs get squished and fancy new features get added quickly, but other than that, what does it mean to you, the end user?

The most obvious benefit it has for everyone, is that it is all free. Yes, you heard me correctly. It is free. Gone are the days when you had to fork out hundreds of pounds for a piece of software, because these days you can download most, if not all of the things you need for free. Now technically speaking it doesn’t have to be free. Any developer can decide they want to charge for the software they produce, even if it is Open Source. However, the danger for them is that another developer may come along, modify the same source code and bring out their own product which is free. So in effect, it all ends up being free. The developers make money by offering services related to the software they produce. Providing software support in its many guises for instance. So they don’t go penniless.

That’s it for this week. Next week will be about a specific Open Source project.

Alan Stainer