Open source

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Websites and the Internet

Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials—typically, their source code. Some consider it as a philosophy, and others consider it as a pragmatic methodology. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet and its enabling of diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. Subsequently, open source software became the most prominent face of open source practices.

The open source model can allow for the concurrent use of different agendas and approaches in production, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies. "Open source" as applied to culture defines a culture in which fixations are made generally available. Participants in such a culture are able to modify those products and redistribute them back into the community.


The "open source" label came out of a strategy session held at Palo Alto, California, in reaction to Netscape's January 1998 announcement of a source code release for Navigator. The group of individuals at the session included Christine Peterson who suggested "open source" and also included Todd Anderson, Larry Augustin, Jon Hall, Sam Ockman, and Eric S. Raymond. They used the opportunity before the release of Navigator's source code to free themselves of the ideological and confrontational connotations of the term free software. Netscape listened and released their code as open source under the name of Mozilla.

The term was given a big boost at an event organized in April 1998 by technology publisher Tim O'Reilly. Originally titled the "Freeware Summit" and later known as the "Open Source Summit", the event brought together the leaders of many of the most important free and open source projects, including Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Brian Behlendorf, Eric Allman, Guido van Rossum, Michael Tiemann, Paul Vixie, Jamie Zawinski of Netscape, and Eric Raymond. At that meeting, the confusion caused by the name "free software" was brought up. Tiemann argued for "sourceware" as a new term, while Raymond argued for "open source." The assembled developers took a vote, and the winner was announced at a press conference that evening.

This milestone may be commonly seen as the birth of the open source movement. However, earlier researchers with access to the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) used a process called Request for Comments, which is similar to open standards, to develop telecommunication network protocols. Characterized by contemporary open source work, this collaborative process led to the birth of the Internet in 1969. An early use of open source was in the 1950s, when IBM distributed operating systems in source format and the SHARE user group was formed to facilitate the exchange of source code.

The Open Source Initiative formed in February 1998 by Eric S. Raymond and Bruce Perens. With about 20 years of evidence from case histories of closed development versus open development already provided by the Internet, the OSI continued to present the 'open source' case to commercial businesses. They sought to bring a higher profile to the practical benefits of freely available source code, and they wanted to bring major software businesses and other high-tech industries into open source. Bruce Perens adapted Debian's Free Software Guidelines to make the Open Source Definition.

Critics have said that the term "open source" fosters an ambiguity of a different kind, in that it confuses the mere availability of the source with the freedom to use, modify, and redistribute it. Developers have used the term Free/Open-Source Software ( FOSS), or Free/Libre/Open-Source Software ( FLOSS), consequently, to describe open-source software that is freely available and free of charge.


Software is not the only field affected by open source; many fields of study and social and political views have been affected by the growth of the concept of open source. Advocates in one field will often support the expansion of open source in other fields, including Linus Torvalds who is quoted as saying, "the future is open source everything."

Eric Raymond and other founders of the open source movement have sometimes publicly tried to put the brakes on speculation about applications outside of software, arguing that strong arguments for software openness should not be weakened by overreaching into areas where the story is less compelling. The broader impacts of the open source movement, and the extent of its role in the development of new information sharing procedures, remains to be seen.

The open source movement has been the inspiration for increased transparency and liberty in other fields, including the release of biotechnology research by CAMBIA, Wikipedia, and other projects. The open-source concept has also been applied to media other than computer programs, e.g., by Creative Commons. It also constitutes an example of user innovation (see for example the book Democratizing Innovation). Often, open source is an expression where it simply means that a system is available to all who wish to work on it.

Most economists would agree that open source candidates have a public goods aspect to them. In general, this suggests that the original work involves a great deal of time, money, and effort. However, the cost of reproducing the work is very low so that additional users may be added at zero or near zero cost - this is referred to as the marginal cost of a product. At this point, it is necessary to consider a copyright. The idea of copyright for works of authorship is to protect the incentive of making these original works. Copyright restriction then creates access costs on consumers who value the original more than making an additional copy but value the original less than its price. Thus, they will pay an access cost of this difference. Access costs also pose problems for authors who wish to create something based on another work yet are not willing to pay the copyright holder for the rights to the copyrighted work. The second type of cost incurred with a copyright system is the cost of administration and enforcement of the copyright.

The idea of open source is then to eliminate the access costs of the consumer and the creator by reducing the restrictions of copyright. This will lead to creation of additional works, which build upon previous work and add to greater social benefit. Additionally, some proponents argue that open source also relieves society of the administration and enforcement costs of copyright. Organizations such as Creative Commons have websites where individuals can file for alternative "licenses", or levels of restriction, for their works. These self-made protections free the general society of the costs of policing copyright infringement. Thus, on several fronts, there is an efficiency argument to be made on behalf of open sourced goods.

Others argue that society loses through open sourced goods. Because there is a loss in monetary incentive to the creation of new goods, some argue that new products will not be created. This argument seems to apply particularly to the business model where extensive research and development is done, e.g. pharmaceuticals. However, others argue that visual art and other works of authorship should be free. These proponents of extensive open source ideals argue that there should be no monetary incentive for artists.


  • Beverages
    • OpenCola — An idea inspired by the open source movement. Soft drink giants like Coke and Pepsi hold their formulas as closely guarded secrets. Now volunteers have posted the recipe for a similar cola drink on the Internet. The taste is said to be comparable to that of the standard beverages.
    • Beer — A beer recipe called Vores Øl. The beer was created by students at the IT-University in Copenhagen together with Superflex, a Copenhagen-based artist collective, to illustrate how open source concepts might be applied outside the digital world. The concept expands upon a statement found in the Free Software Definition: "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech' not as in 'free beer.'" Following its release, an article in Wired magazine commented that "as open source spreads beyond software to online encyclopedias like Wikipedia and biological research, it was only a matter of time before somebody created an open-source beer".
    • But before that In 2002 a beer company in Australia, Brewtopia, started an open source brewery which invited the general population to be involved in the development and ownership of the brewery, but asking them to vote on the development of every aspect of their beer, Blowfly, and its road to market. In return for their feedback and input, they received shares in the company, which is now publicly traded on one of the Stock Exchanges in Australia. The company has always adhered to its Open Source roots and is the only beer company in the world that allows the public to design, customise and develop their own beers online.
    • Coffee - It has been pointed out that capsule-based beverage systems such as Nestle's Nespresso or Krups' Tassimo turn home-brewed coffee from an inherently "open-source" beverage into a product limited by the specific range of capsules made available by the system manufacturers.


  • 'Open Source' is sometimes used to describe content. This is arguable; no open source licenses are used; rather, Open Content licenses are used. Such content is properly called 'Open Content' or 'Free Content', as applicable.

Health and science

  • Medicine
    • Pharmaceuticals — There have been several proposals for open-source pharmaceutical development, which led to the establishment of the Tropical Disease Initiative. There are also a number of not-for-profit "virtual pharmas" such as the Institute for One World Health and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.
  • Science
    • Research — The Science Commons was created as an alternative to the expensive legal costs of sharing and reusing scientific works in journals etc.


MediaWiki logo
MediaWiki logo
  • Computer software
    • Open source software — software whose source code is published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees. Open source code evolves through community cooperation. These communities are composed of individual programmers as well as very large companies. Examples of open-source software products are:
      • Linux kernel - operating system based on Unix
      • Eclipse - software framework for "rich-client applications"
      • Apache - HTTP web server
      • Tomcat web server - web container
      • Blender - 3D graphics application
      • Moodle - course management system
      • Mozilla Firefox - web browser
      • Mozilla Thunderbird - e-mail client
      • - office suite
      • OpenSolaris - Unix Operating System from Sun Microsystems
      • Mediawiki - wiki server software, the software that runs Wikipedia
      • Drupal - content management system
      • GNU Compiler Collection - Programming language compiler for C, C++, Java and other languages.
  • Computer hardware
    • Open source hardware — hardware whose initial specification, usually in a software format, are published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the hardware and source code without paying royalties or fees. Open source hardware evolves through community cooperation. These communities are composed of individual hardware/software developers, hobbyists, as well as very large companies. Examples of open source hardware initiatives are:
      • Sun Microsystem's OpenSPARC T1 Multicore processor. Sun has released it under GPL.
      • Arduino, a microcontroller platform for hobbyists, artists and designers.
  • Open design — which involves applying open source methodologies to the design of artifacts and systems in the physical world. Very nascent but has huge potential.
  • Teaching - which involves applying the concepts of open source to instruction using a shared web space as a platform to improve upon learning, organizational, and management challenges. An example of an Open Source Courseware is the Java Education & Development Initiative (JEDI).

Open source principles can also be applied to technical areas other than computer software, such as digital communication protocols and data storage formats (for instance the Indian development simputer).

Society and culture

Open source as applied to culture defines a culture in which fixations are made generally available. Participants in such an open source culture are able to modify those products, if needed, and redistribute them back into the community or other organizations.


  • Open source government — primarily refers to use of open source software technologies in traditional government organizations and government operations such as voting.
  • Open source politics — is a term used to describe a political process that uses Internet technologies such as blogs, email and polling to provide for a rapid feedback mechanism between political organizations and their supporters. There is also an alternative conception of the term which relates to the development of public policy under a set of rules and processes similar to the Open Source Software movement.
  • Open source governance — is similar to open source politics, but it applies more to the democratic process and promotes the freedom of information.


Within the academic community, there is discussion about expanding what could be called the "intellectual commons" (analogous to the creative commons). Proponents of this view have hailed the OpenCourseWare project at MIT, Eugene Thacker's article on " Open Source DNA", the "Open Source Cultural Database", openwebschool, and Wikipedia as examples of applying open source outside the realm of computer software.

Open Source Curriculum are instructional resources whose digital source can be freely used, distributed and modified, typically by classroom educators. The open source curriculum development process invites the feedback and participation in a community of educational practitioners working to create a course or unit of study. Such development communities can form ad-hoc, within the same subject area or around a common student need, and allow for a variety of editing and workflow structures. OpenEducator, a non-profit organization launched in March 2006 using the open source Drupal CMS, aims to support an open source curriculum development community for K-12 educators. Another project the Open Source Learning Project is an open source curriculum project initiated by Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development- Public Safety Services.This project is focused on curriculum and training materials for emergency services and developing a resource for emergency services related research.

Innovation communities

The principle of sharing predates the open source movement; for example, the free sharing of information has been institutionalized in the scientific enterprise since at least the 19th century. Open source principles have always been part of the scientific community. The sociologist Robert K. Merton described the four basic elements of the community - universalism (an international perspective), communism (sharing information), disinterestedness (removing one's personal views from the scientific inquiry) and organized skepticism (requirements of proof and review) that accurately describe the scientific community today. These principles are, in part, complemented by US law's focus on protecting expression and method but not the ideas themselves. There is also a tradition of publishing research results to the scientific community instead of keeping all such knowledge proprietary. One of the recent initiatives in scientific publishing has been open access - the idea that research should be published in such a way that it is free and available to the public. There are currently many open access journals where the information is available for free online, however most journals do charge a fee (either to users or libraries for access). The Budapest Open Access Initiative is an international effort with the goal of making all research articles available for free on the internet. The National Institutes of Health has recently proposed a policy on "Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information." This policy would provide a free, searchable resource of NIH-funded results to the public and with other international repositories six months after its initial publication. The NIH's move is an important one because there is significant amount of public funding in scientific research. Many of the questions have yet to be answered - the balancing of profit vs. public access, and ensuring that desirable standards and incentives do not diminish with a shift to open access.

Benjamin Franklin was an early contributor donating all his inventions including the Franklin stove, bifocals and the lightning rod to the public domain.

At Bootstrap Austin, an open source community, entrepreneurs provide negotiated products/services at no cost to the group. The entrepreneur benefits by gaining reputation in the community, experience and an improved product. The community is at once a customer and Evangelist for the product/service. The entrepreneur monetizes their product or service outside the Bootstrap community.

Arts and recreation

Copyright protection is used in the performing arts and even in athletic activities. Groups have attempted to protect such practices from being fettered by copyright.

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