What is Open Source?

According to Wikipedia.com, Open Source is “set of principles and practices on how to write software, the most important of which is that the source code is openly available.”

The best source of materials about Open Source is the Open Source Initiative, a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source.

On their site you can read articles about Open Source as well as the 10 principles which clearly define what is and what IS NOT Open Source.

How can Open Source technology improve the outcome of your web project?

Open Source Solutions

Open Source Solutions are products built and constantly improved by mostly volunteer coders.  Open Source Solutions can be broken into three main categories:

  1. Scripting Languages such as…

    1. Perl
    2. PHP
    3. JavaScript
  2. Software such as…

    1. The Linux Operating System (used most famously by Google)
    2. Mozilla Firefox
  3. Web Applications such as…

    1. The ModSecurity Open Source Firewall
    2. Joomla – an Open Source Content Management System

During the development or even the pre-development of your web site or web application, you may be faced with the choice of Open Source vs. Proprietary Solutions such as .NET, the Microsoft scripting language.

With Open Source applications, you are allowed to modify the source code of the application as the need arises.

With Proprietary applications, it is illegal to modify the source code of the application. In some cases it is illegal to even look at the source code. (It’s a phrase in that license you never read.)

Whether or not you understand the technical aspects of either choice, it is important to understand the business decision you are about to make.

To be fair, we develop on both platforms. Sometimes using Open Source options is not in the best interest of our clients for various reasons.  However, we tend to be strong proponents of Open Source based solutions for our clients.

Here’s why we like open source for our clients…

  1. The base source code for all applications and solutions is free and supported by a large community of developers.
    1. This means you have a large group of developers going under the hood and testing the solution from many angles
    2. The bugs are found, tested and talked about in an open forum… a lot
    3. Documentation, whether formal or informal is usually there and generally plentiful
  2. You can find an Open Source Solution based on a language like PHP or JavaScript that will compete feature for feature with a proprietary software product.
    1. The difference is that this solution is free
    2. The other main difference is that you have access to the source code and can modify the product to work for your specific purposes
    3. Developers will usually charge you less if they can develop your web site in PHP instead of .NET because of the access to Open Source Solutions.
  3. Why re-invent the wheel?  If you have an application need, chances are someone has either developed it or something like it that your web developers can modify to suit your needs.

Now don’t think that because it’s Open Source and Free that you will be able to go out and get a great web site for free.  Open Source simply makes finding more effective tools to build your site much easier.

I should also explain how “free” works… Nobody does anything for nothing, however the benefits here are the fact that you are not limited to one piece of software of the list of things it can do for you.  We prefer Open Source not so much for the fact that it is free, but because as we develop an application we have more readily available resources at our fingertips.

Think of it this way – just because someone hands you a free car engine, that doesn’t mean you can just drop it in your car and start driving. You still need a good mechanic to install and configure it to work in your car. You’ll also need a good mechanic to keep the engine running smoothly.

Also, when people hear free they tend to get nervous… “Who supports this at 3am when my system won’t boot?”  The reality of Open Source is that since the source code is “free” and readily available, the pool of talented developers in both the application development and support roles are plentiful.

One of the biggest benefits of open source is that nobody writes a single line of code designed to “lock in the customer.”  The economic term is “Barrier to Exit.” Remember the pain involved in leaving AOL or the trapped feeling you get with any Microsoft product.

Overall, using Open Source will save you money in development costs.  It also puts you in a much better position for future development opportunities because you are not locked into a proprietary product with proprietary support.

Jason focuses on business development and project management at Wood Street and is a company partner. His duties include building client relationships and guiding clients through the design development processes. He studied business at Frostburg State University, earning degrees in Business Administration and in Marketing, with a minor in Graphic Design & Public Relations.