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Double Stamp is an easy-to-understand guide to useful computer and internet technology. It's written to be readable by everyday computer users.

The Open Source Revolution

If you use the internet and new software frequently, you have probably come across the term “open-source.” If you haven't heard of it, you need to know so keep reading. Some people think that “open-source” means that you can download and install software for free, without ever having to pay money to use it, while others think it means that anyone can change a piece of software at their will. While there is some truth to both of these concepts, this article will teach you the essence of open-source software and why it's good news for you as an end-user.

Most companies keep the computer code used to create their programs (called source code) secret. By keeping their source code proprietary and secret, they prevent other companies or individuals from stealing their work. By locking the public and other companies out, however, these companies also lock themselves in from community collaboration.

"Open-source," means that the code for a program is freely available to anyone who would like to have it. Anyone is allowed to download the code, change it, and use it however they like, with little or no licensing issues to deal with. The trade-off is that any changes that you make to your copy of the software, must remain open to anyone as well. Some companies sell their open-source software, and others give it away for free, making money from support services. Let's look at an example:

Let's say your in the business of flying to the moon. My company, Intergalactic Programming, has been working on an open-source program to control space-ship computers. One of the features of your space ship is automatic moon landing, but my program does not currently provide that. Instead of starting from scratch, you download the code to my program, and add the automatic moon landing feature. The open-source model now requires you to make public your changes, so my company can now integrate the automatic landing feature upon my next software release (if we decide we want to)! With the open-source model, innovation is nurtured, not squashed inside the walls of one company.

Wow, that means that we both came out with benefits. You saved time by using my program, and my program became better because of you! Imagine what happens when companies and programmers from across the entire world collaborate on an open-source project, we all win. Is there a single company that would be able to keep up with this kind of growth? I think not. If you ask me, Apple and Microsoft will be in a lot of trouble in about 5-10 years, as soon as the general public starts to understand and support open-source projects.

You can already be a beneficiary of open-source programs. Here are some of my favorites that you can download for FREE:

  • Firefox: The best web browser out. If you've tried Firefox, you know how great open-source can be.
  • The GIMP: A great photo editing application. Instead of forking over hundreds of dollars for Photoshop, try this for free.
  • Open Office: An office suite comparable (better, in my opinion) to Microsoft Office. Contains: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, drawing, and more.
  • Songbird: Great for you online music junkies. It's a mix of a music player and web browser.
  • Ubuntu: An entire operating system based on Linux. With Ubuntu, you do not need Microsoft Windows or Apple's Mac OS.

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