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Open Source -- Defined

When leaping into the world of web design and digital entrepreneurship, you might come across the term “open source” frequently. What is open source and what does it mean for the digital community? Understanding the concept of open source will be important if you choose to utilize it in your own endeavors, for even things that are open source have certain legal limitations that must be followed.

“Open source” generally means that whatever the finished digital product is, users can and will have access to the source code used to design it, for the purpose of tweaking and modifying the end product to something that better suits their own needs. A good example of something that is open source is the Android operating system for mobile devices. Based on Linux, the system itself is open source and developers encourage users to modify and work with the source code to make the system more customizable to a particular device and user’s needs.

While mobile network services employ developers to design specific versions of Android for the devices they sell, at which point the carrier asks the user NOT to modify the system on a device sold to them, these “official” versions of Android like 2.3 Gingerbread are not more legal than unofficial version of Android such as Cyanogen, which can be installed on any Android device. The code for the current Android system can be downloaded via the Android Software Developer Kit, and some industrious users have developed versions of Android solely for their own use.

Quite often, open source end products are free or extremely inexpensive. The concept of open source is that the product is freely available and belongs to no one in particular. Many programming languages, such as Python and PHP are open source, meaning that anyone can develop programs with them without having to pay a license fee for the use of the language and code. There are open source operating systems such as Linux, that many computer users prefer over the operating systems of the two monopolies of Microsoft and Apple which impose many restrictions and rules on the use of their operating systems.

There are also quite a few open source programs being used, such as Mozilla Firefox web browser and Open Office, both free, that many users prefer over the use of Apple and Microsoft products such as Internet Explorer and Safari and Microsoft Office. Because developers are constantly tweaking the source code of open source programs, the general mindset is that these programs are more stable and not as buggy as the versions put out by companies. The Firefox web browser is considered to be one of the most stable out there, less prone to viruses and annoying pop-ups.

Many developers are choosing to use open source tools mostly due to the freedom allowed form lack of licensing and the fact that most of it is free. There are some legal restrictions in some cases, in that certain kinds of code are not used with open source items, although this is rare. Web designers can make use of many open source tools such as HTM and Javascript to enhance their sites, and open source ensures that the Internet remains free and open to all.

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