What Is Open Source?

What is Free Open Source Software?

The central thought of free open source begins with freedom of information. Among the first and one of the strongest proponents of free open source software is Richard Stallings of The Free Software Foundation. Richard Stalling was raised and employed in an environment of proprietary closed source (encrypted) software. He among other professional programmers were frequently stymied by buggy software that he was powerless to try to fix, improve or “debug”.

This lead to the thought process that all software should be maintainable and fixable by the end user. So the initial idea behind “free software” refers to freedom to examine the computer programs and to fix or improve the code where necessary. This developed into a computer program “Freedom of Information Act” of sorts. The licensing of these programs is that the source code must be included with the software, not-encrypted, and modifiable by the end user/developer.

This does not mean that “free open source software” has to be “free of charge.” In fact, Richard Stallman and a number others make this very clear that what they mean is freedom of information, access to the code source and the freedom to modify the source as seen fit by the end user/developer. There has been a substantial culture that has grown up around this principle and a very large number of these programs are in fact also “free of charge.

There was a nice summary of free open source software published in the the British Medical Journal, October 21, 2000. (BMJ 2000;321:976) This was titled Medical Software’s Free Future. The article summarizes how free open source software has potential advantages over proprietary software.

Proprietary software comes with some built problems that has caused trouble for most of us in business over the last 40 years. The ones that seem to top the list were summarized by Ignacio Valdes, MD which he published on-line in his “Linux Medical News”:

# Sunsetting, corporate buy-outs, bankruptcy, patient outliving their software.
# Mobile workforce: 1 doctor 5 practice settings 5 different EMR GUI’s in 1 week. Training, re-training, re-re-training.
# Disaster preparedness (see item 2 above).
# Vendor lock-in.
# Duplication of engineering costs.
# Meta-applications built on substrate without asking permission: simulators, bio-surveillance, yet-to-be-conceived apps.
# Ensuring confidentiality.
# Software forensics in the case of malfeasance.
# Error reduction studies and engineering in a proprietary software mosaic.
# No one vendor with enough engineering resources.
# Corporate agenda not in harmony with customer needs.

Open Source can deal with all of the problems in a way that proprietary software either cannot deal with at all or only poorly. One of the biggest problems is the obsolescence of programs. Software becomes obsolescent for a variety of reasons. Certainly corporate buy-outs and bankruptcy can cause a business administrator to have nightmares.

By its nature, open source software is developed in a multi-centric fashion. Many programs are developed where there are multiple programmers on different continents. This multi-centric nature makes open source highly resistant to these types of problems. Even natural disasters wiping out several countries at a time. This allows a particular open source program to survive challenges that are simply inconceivable to the majority of proprietary software firms.

Legal Aspects of Open Source Software

Medical Software’s Free Future – British Medical Journal

I wanted to put these resources here for those who have never discovered them and for the ones who seemingly have forgotten them. Fundamentally Open Source is really about freedom of speech. It also means free as in “Free beer”. The term “open source” describes a process and a philosophy for the development and release of computer software. The emergence and widespread adoption of the internet as a communication technology has allowed myriad software developers from all over the world to collaborate on software code production and testing and then share that code with users worldwide. Because its philosophy is so different from the “dog eat dog” mindset of commercial software, many have doubted the model. But the success of Gnu-Linux in its many favors, Firefox, Apache, MySQL, LibreOffice, 7-Zip, Android and Chromium from Google, to name a few, should quiet the disbelievers.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar – The classic essay on the open source way.

“The Open Source Way.”The Red Hat Community has collected a series of essays and called it the “The Open Source Way.” Red Hat is the one of the largest of all the open source communities. We owe a lot to this community.

The Free Software Foundation. The Free Software Foundation is the big brother of open-source communities. Huge source of information.

The analogy of the Bazaar is about openness and community.

Sam Bowen, MD