Jakarta post Features – Amid spicy Indian food, around a hundred software developers and social workers from all over Asia gather at a week-long camp in Bangalore, India; “Open Source” is the buzz phrase that gathers these subcontinental tech-folks together.
The terminology Open Source deals with software that makes computer hardware come alive and do things. In order to function, computer hardware needs programs, or software.
This software can be an operating system that manages the computer, or any number of various application programs to do tasks from typing articles to simulating inter galactic war.
Computer programs are initially written in a programming language, readable by human programmers. This is called source code.
This source code is then transformed into machine code that only a computer can understand and execute. It is possible, but extremely difficult, to convert machine code back into source code. All major main-stream software is sold in machine code format, so the user can only use it, and cannot modify it. Open Source software refers to software that is distributed in source code format, and in some cases also comes with rights for the user to modify the source code and recompile it into a modified program.
Some Open Source software is also distributed free of charge through communities of enthusiastic programmers who share, augment, improve and modify the source collection turning it into growing set of software libraries, and propelling it into an alternative domain in terms of software economics, with various license and distribution mechanisms.
Open Source software folks believe in four freedoms in terms of software — the freedom to use, study, modify and share -freedoms all lacking in major commercial software.
As the word “free” in English can mean no-cost (as in free beer) and also freedom (as in free speech), this type of software has been given a unique terminology: Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), also known as Open Source Software (OSS) or Free Open Source Software (FOSS).
Two Open Source gurus, namely Richard Stallman and Linus Thorvald, laid the foundations for dynamic software freedom. Stallman, unhappy with industrial software copyright systems, worked on sets of programs called GNU, set up a free software foundation, and devised legal licensing mechanisms that allows software to be propagated and collectively worked on by large programmer communities.
At the same time, Linus Thorvald of Finland started writing an operating system, later given the name Linux. The GNU-Linux, a significant initial FLOSS operating system in the early 90s, has since evolved into a whole array of different FLOSS software.
FLOSS employs a spectrum of licenses that stipulates and retains the freedom of software distribution. In a nutshell, the licenses state that the software is free to be distributed and modified and used (even for commercial purposes) but users must always freely distribute the software.
The various GNU-Linux families of software then matured into various versions, including corporate commercial versions.
In terms of performance, FLOSS software is very competitive with commercial software. An Internet survey has shown that the Open Source Apache web server software has gained majority market share, larger than similar commercial software.
In Eric. S. Raymond’s words, its the difference between a cathedral and a bazaar. Proprietary software is developed in a cathedral fashion, in which a very small number of minds work on the software, while Open Source Software is much more like a bazaar, where an unlimited number of people contribute to the development of specific software, making for faster development and improvement.
Commercial software companies argue that the price paid for free software is lack of support, while FLOSS people counter claim that support for FLOSS is unlimited as there are a multitude of programmer communities that can provide such support.
IBM, Silicon Graphics (a major producer of high-end computers) and Apple have formally taken sides with FLOSS. Various governments around the world have formally declared their stance by saying that they will adopt FLOSS, including the government of Indonesia that uses the slogan “Indonesia Goes Open Source” (http://www.igos.web.id/) and is backed up by programmer communities (http://opensource-indonesia.com).
UNDP has also supported the Open Source realm. However, Microsoft and a number of software companies around the world plead with governments to employ policies of “neutrality” in choosing software.
FLOSS discourse has shifted from mere technical choices in terms of performance and price, to an issue of freedom. It now propels a titanic underground battle between Bill Gates and a million Rastafarian programmers eating spicy Asian food.