What is Open Source?

When I mention the term "open source" to potential clients, I get a confused look. Not surprising as it's jargon in the programming industry. However, when I explain that open source software is free to use and will reduce the cost of building their websites, clients perk up quite a bit.

Really, "Open Source" began in the 1990's when developers started writing code that could be used for the community in any way the community wished. Netscape released their Netscape Communicator internet suite to anyone who wanted to take it and modify it - for free. No patents, licensing fees or usage fees - no suing for infringement or reverse engineering. The idea, influenced by the hacking community, is that everyone should have access to code to benefit society by sharing and collaborating.

Over the years, once expensive program suites began to see open source counterparts. Example: Building a small business website from scratch used to run $20-$40k. Now, with an open source content management system (CMS), a small business website can typically be built for $2-$5k. Google has offered free word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software through their platform as well as extensive website traffic tracking software (which used to cost thousands of dollars a year to use and required extensive code to implement) to anyone who signs up for a google account.

Really, many technologies that used to cost a fortune now have open source alternatives. Plus, the programmer communities who support open source efforts and keep these system updated are robust and quite proud of their work. Programmers earn "street cred" by adding extensions and functionality to existing open source programs.

Open Source isn't just for the online world. Outside the internet community, Elon Musk has released his Tesla electric car patents to anyone who wishes to build upon and improve the technology.

For us regular folks, open source has been a boon for business productivity.It also helps the small business compete with the larger, deeper pockets of big business. While Open Source has matured, it's peak has not yet been reached. For those of us who wish to compete in this world, Open Source has helped level the playing field.

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