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influene of open source software

The Growing Influence of Open-Source Software

Harry Stewart
Open-source software provides a free alternative to commercially-produced programs, perfect for businesses and individuals with limited funds. But it’s not just about saving money. Publically available code can be more flexible, stable, innovative, and educational than proprietary software.
As the influence of open-source software grows, it’s worth understanding the philosophy and its practical applications. In this post, we’ll cover the history and definition of open-source software, discuss its pros and cons, and outline success stories across multiple sectors. Then, we’ll provide insight into its future.

What is open-source software?

Open-source software is distributed with its original source code so others can use, modify or redistribute it without paying licensing fees.
Open-source software is an alternative to proprietary software, a commercially produced program for which the copyright holder obliges the consumer to pay a licensing fee. Also known as closed-source software, proprietary applications cannot be altered or redistributed unless explicitly specified by the copyright holder.
All open-source software is free, but not all free software is open-source. Some developers distribute software for free without releasing the source code.
Developers tinkering with open-source software can access the source code from an online depository like GitHub. End users looking for an open-source program usually download it from an official website.

What are open-source licenses?

benefits of open source software
To qualify as open-source software, the developer must release their source code for free under a special license. The specific license determines how others can use the code.
  • MIT License: Highly permissive with few restrictions. Developers can use, modify, publish, distribute and sell copies.
  • GNU General Public License: A popular license allowing users to run, study, share, and modify the software.
  • Apache License: A permissive license allowing the user to use, modify, and distribute the software for any reason. However, you must list all modifications made to the original software.

The history of open-source software

Open-source software isn’t a new concept. In the early days of software development, computer code was viewed as implicit to hardware and, therefore, not protected by copyright. Code sharing was a common practice among competing organisations.
In 1974, the Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU) defined code as a category of creative work for which copyright protection should apply. This decision saw software publishing emerge as an industry, spurred on by the increasing popularity of personal computers.
An MIT programmer named Richard Stallman took a stand against proprietary software in 1983. Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation, developed a free alternative to the AT&T-owned UNIX operating system, and created the world’s first open-source license. Known as the GNU General Public License (GPL), this license, which is still in use today, requires anyone who edits the code to redistribute their updated version to the public for free.
In 1997, software engineer Eric S. Raymond published an influential essay called The Cathedral and the Bazaar. His paper contrasted the rigid approach of proprietary software development, which he dubbed “the cathedral,” against the wide-open and freely-shared public development approach known as “the Bazaar.” These musings made Raymond an “Accidental Revolutionary” when Netscape Corporation took notice and published Mozilla Firefox as open-source code.
A year later, in 1998, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded to promote and protect open-source software. This centralised informational and governing body provides guidelines on interacting with open-source software, licensing information, support, and definitions.
Stallman’s phrase “free software” was replaced with “open source” in 1999, as the former term focused too much on cost. Open-source software is called “free” because everyone can edit and redistribute it, not because it doesn’t cost money.

The advantages of open-source software

Open-source software has many advantages over closed-source, commercially-driven applications:
  • Free to use: Open-source software doesn’t entail any licensing fees.
  • Customisation: Depending on the license type, the user may alter the code to suit their needs.
  • Updates: Users can add patches rather than the software developer, who may be slow (or refuse) to develop them.
  • On-going support: Popular open-source applications have excellent support from the user community.
  • Security: The more eyes that review a source code, the fewer security vulnerabilities. However, open-source software isn’t immune to loopholes and bugs.
  • Stability: Open-source may be preferable for long-term projects as the developer cannot withdraw or discontinue publically distributed code.
  • Innovation & education: Open-source software promotes learning and ingenuity as programmers can edit pre-existing code.
  • Community: Open-source projects are backed by a passionate programming community, opening the door to new networking opportunities.

The disadvantages of open-source software

Open-source software has several drawbacks to consider as well:
  • Profitability: Some developers will find it easier to profit with proprietary software.
  • Usability: Open-source software may be harder to use, as less time and effort has gone into fine-tuning the user interface.
  • Compatibility: Programming proprietary hardware with open-source software may require specialised drivers only obtainable from the hardware manufacturer.
  • Liability protection: Unlike commercial software, open-source code rarely offers protection against liability issues, such as warranties or infringement indemnity. The consumer is responsible for compliance.
  • Additional costs: While the code is free, open-source software may entail extra costs for training, transferring data, and configuring hardware.

Current open-source trends & statistics in the UK

open source software industries
According to a report from OpenUK, a not-for-profit organisation promoting open-source technology in Britain, the UK is a world leader in open-source software adoption. More Britons per capita use GitHub, the world’s biggest open-source software repository, than any other country.
In a separate report, OpenUK found that 97% of British businesses use some form of open-source software. At least 75% of the UK’s public sector is now on board, 54% of whom have adopted policies to make open-source the preferred option where practical.
The technology, media, and communications sectors contribute most heavily to open-source initiatives: 78% compared to 53% in the non-tech sector. In the British banking, finance, and insurance industries, 93% of organisations use open-source operating systems (such as Linux), while 89% code in open-source languages such as C, JavaScript, or Python.
While cost savings are the primary driver, other motives include enhanced security, quality, collaboration, training, and community. OpenUK also found that open-source software contributed £43 billion to the British economy. An estimated 126,000 British developers helped build and maintain open-source projects.
The industry-leading open-source operating system, Linux, runs almost 97% of the top one million web servers worldwide. This widespread success is primarily due to its reliability, security, and scalability. A robust, open-source code base lets the community identify and patch bugs quickly.

Popular open-source programs

Most present-day devices have open-source software, whether an operating system, media player, web browser, or another application type. Here’s a short list of the biggest open-source success stories:
  • Linux: A widely popular Unix-like open-source operating system based on the Linux kernel. Linux is the preferred OS for database servers, web servers, file servers, email servers, and more.
  • Android: A well-known operating system for most non-Apple smartphones and tablets.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Adapted from the 1990s-era Netscape Navigator, the Mozilla Firefox web browser was among the first mainstream applications to go open source.
  • LibreOffice: This extensive productivity suite is designed to rival Microsoft Office.
  • GIMP: Short for "GNU image manipulation program," GIMP is a powerful open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop.
  • Shortcut: This open-source video editing application has a slew of basic and advanced features.
  • Audacity: Made for music and podcast makers, Audacity is an open-source audio editor to record, alter, and enhance sounds.
  • Apache HTTP Server: This long-standing cross-platform web server software accepts and redirects HTTP requests.
  • VLC Media Player: Capable of playing virtually every conceivable file type, this open-source media player app has become popular for its impressive versatility.

Business strategies for open-source software

Developing open-source software requires resources, and companies cannot recuperate their investment through traditional licensing agreements. Nonetheless, there are financially viable ways for a company to develop open-source software.
As open-source software can provide substantial commercial benefits, some corporations will donate funds or dedicate salaried employees toward its development.
A more common business model involves charging consumers for support services. In 1993, Red Hat began providing support services to its enterprise redistribution of the Linux operating system. The strategy saw the company surpass USD $1 billion in revenue in 2012. IBM purchased the company for USD $34 billion in 2019, the largest software acquisition ever.
Some open-source applications, such as the popular blogging platform WordPress, adopt a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription model. WordPress charges customers a monthly subscription fee for services like web hosting, support, and SEO or e-commerce tools.
Other developers earn revenue from web traffic. For example, GitHub gets a slice of the advertising revenue from its webpage, while Mozilla Firefox gets paid by the search engines it supports.

The future of open source software

As the influence of open-source software expands in Britain and beyond, there will likely be changes in corporate adoption, industry expansion, and licensing.
With open-source software biting into the proprietary market, more corporate involvement is inevitable. Expect big tech companies to provide additional backing as open-source becomes increasingly prevalent in various business sectors.
Open-source software is already standard in fields like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. But continued expansion will see it become a mainstay in new sectors. Industries such as healthcare, scientific research and agriculture are prime candidates.
As the philosophy grows, so too will its licensing arrangements. Highly specific licenses will likely evolve as open-source software delves into new sectors.


Open-source software has evolved from a one-man rebellion to a global philosophy shared by volunteers and colossal tech companies. With the model continuing to expand at breakneck speed, individuals and businesses would do well to learn more about the concept and embrace the change.

About the Author

Harry Stewart is a Tech Takes contributor covering everything from laptop reviews to how-to guides.

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