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Open Source – the beginners guide

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What is open source? Simply put, open source is a term used to describe a piece of computer code or application written by others that you can use as is or to further a product of your own.

Most people associate the term open source with a single word; free. Whereas this is the case for a great many hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of applications, it’s not always free to the end user. Companies and individuals can and do use someone’s hard work, repackage it and sell it on as part of a new product.

Open source provides a valuable repository of code and applications that are freely available for use by seemingly anyone with the knowhow.

So what’s the point in open source if anyone can essentially steal someone else’s hard work you might now ask? This is where the GNU General Public License comes into play. The license agreement although not a legally binding contract is enforceable in court via fines or other methods.

To use any open source code you must adhere by the guidelines set out in the agreement. The guidelines, in summary are as below:

You can

  • Use open source code for commercial use
  • Modify existing code
  • Distribute your code
  • Place a warranty on your product
  • Patent your work

You cannot

  • Sublicense code or applications based from open source
  • Hold others liable for damages

You must

  • Include a copy of the original code
  • State any major changes to the code
  • Disclose the code if distributed as a packaged executable
  • Include a copy of the latest GNU license
  • Include any original copyright with your product

So now you have an overview of the protection that coders and developers have surrounding their open source applications, you’re probably wondering what you find open source code in. Most computer users have several open source applications on their computers, including some extremely well known products, such as Firefox, JAVA, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, KeePass and the very widely used PDF Creator.

I think more people will be surprised to know that open source code impacts on an extremely large part of your daily routine, from commuting to work (be it in your car or using your Oyster Card), using apps on your phone or even paying for things with your Chip & PIN.

So remember, some of what you pay for, or at least part of it, originally came from open source.

Priority One – London IT Support

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Greg Heath

As our senior technical consultant and in-house expert on all things open source, Greg brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table.

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