What is open source?

Most software usually comes in a “compiled version”, which means that it’s ready-to-use by simply running it on a computer. When software is “compiled” it means that the program code (also known as the “source code”) written by the developer, has been processed through a special program called a compiler. Hence, the source code is translated into a form that the computer can read.

Most commercial software are available in the compiled version as this makes it hard to copy, modify, and see how each part of the program was created. Open source software is the opposite. Open source software comes with a license to modify the software and is frequently free of charge. Using the source code provided, developers can customize the software and create something that they believe is more suited to their needs or that fixes bugs.

There are many open source licenses out there, each with different details, but it is generally understood that to be “open source” the following criteria must be met:

  • The source code must be available to the general public
  • The source code should be able to be modified by anyone
  • The source code is often available free of charge
  • Modified versions can often be redistributed free of charge

One of the main advantages of using open source software is that developers can read the open source code and and understand the product. They can then suggest improvements that best suit their organization’s needs.

It is important to read the open source license for the source code you are using or modifying, since there are some subtle differences between licenses.

Many users of Open Source software do not concern themselves with the source code. They are more interested in finding software that works for them. At OpenDemo.org we host open source software as online demos so that you can try it out and see if it works for you.