Open Source Software: Do You Know the Real Deal?

You've heard of the term “open source” before. You might even have open source software on your computer. Programs like OpenOffice, that directly challenge both Microsoft and Apple's office suites. The Mozilla browser that you probably know as “Firefox.” Wikipedia. All of these things have one thing in common – they're all examples of open source. But, what does it take to be open source?

Free Redistribution

The incorrect beliefs that one might have about open source is that it's not protected strictly by copyright laws. It is. It is just that the licenses require and allow different things than traditional “all rights reserved” copyrighted software might. Under some OSS licenses free redistribution does not restrict anyone from selling it. In any event many OSS licenses allow OSS software to be available for free distribution using bittorrent P2P clients like Vuze.

Open Source Code

The program has to include a source code, and that code must be made available for distribution as well as compiled forms so that it's available for anyone to see. Where there may be some form of the product not distributed with the source code, there has to be a well-publicized means of obtaining the code for no more than a reasonable cost for any reproduction. Ideally, the code will be legally available for free on the Internet, free of charge.

Open To Derivative Works

Most OSS licenses allow modifications and derivative works to be made from the original, and it also allow them to be distributed under terms similar to the original license of the software.

Maintaining Integrity of the Source Code

Just because it's open source, does not mean there are no licenses. Usually there are. The license may, in fact, restrict the source code from being distributed in a modified form only if the license also allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code. The “patch files” would serve the purpose of modifying the program. The license may explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code, but it may require derived works to carry a different name or a version number to distinguish it from the original software.

No Discrimination Against People or Groups

The license cannot discriminate against any person or groups of people. So, for example, making the software available only to a particular race, or people of a particular religion or social background, would not be permitted.

No Discrimination Against A Particular Field of Endeavor

As with the prohibition on discrimination against peoples or groups, the license must not discriminate against any field of endeavor. For example, the program cannot restrict users from using it for business purposes or from being used for scientific research purposes – regardless of the research being done.

Free Distribution of License

The rights that are attached to the program have to apply to all who use the program, all who the program is redistributed to, and without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

License Must Not Be Product Specific

You cannot have an open source license and also make that license specific (or tied) to a particular product. So, for example, you cannot make the program dependent on another program for proper functioning.

License Cannot Restrict Other Software

Many OSS software license do not place any restrictions on any other software that's being distributed along with the licensed software. So, for example, those licenses  might not insist that all other programs being distributed on the same medium also be open source.

License Must Be Technology-Neutral

Most OSS license do not specify a particular type of technology that the license applies to, or prohibit use based on particular technology or style of interface.

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