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Open Source Software

Cornell University_011121A
[Cornell University]

- Overview

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is released under a license that grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code. The term "open source" was introduced in the late 1990s by The Open Source Initiative (OSI). 

OSS is developed in a collaborative, public manner, relying on peer review and community production. It is often cheaper, more flexible, and has more longevity than its proprietary peers. 

Some examples of open-source software include: Chrome, OpenOffice, Linux, Android.


- How Does OSS Work?

Open source software (OSS) is software that is distributed with its source code, making it available for use, modification, and distribution with its original rights. 

Source code is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers manipulate to control how a program or application behaves. Programmers who have access to source code can change a program by adding to it, changing it, or fixing parts of it that aren’t working properly. 

OSS typically includes a license that allows programmers to modify the software to best fit their needs and control how the software can be distributed. 

Open source code is usually stored in a public repository and shared publicly. Anyone can access the repository to use the code independently or contribute improvements to the design and functionality of the overall project. 


- The Most Popular OSS Licenses

OSS usually comes with a distribution license. This license includes terms that define how developers can use, study, modify, and most importantly, distribute the software. 

According to Montague Law, the most common open source licenses in 2023 are:

  • GNU General Public License (GPL)
  • MIT License
  • Apache License
  • Modified BSD License
  • Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) License

Other popular open source licenses include:

  • GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
  • Mozilla Public License (MPL)
  • Unlicense

When choosing an open source license, Codecademy suggests asking yourself if you're comfortable with someone else creating or distributing a proprietary version of your project. If so, a permissive license might be right for you. If you're not, then a copyleft license would probably be better suited.

When source code is changed, OSS must include what was altered as well as the methods involved. 

Depending on the license terms, the software resulting from these modifications may or may not be required to be made available for free.


[More to come ...]



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