Open Source

10 Reasons to Use Open Source

For more than 50 years, the production and use of software and hardware have been almost entirely commercial. This is in stark contrast to the principles of the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) model. FOSS is based on communities and does not require the exchange of material goods to participate in the development process or to share the results.

Rather, the interaction of individual actors is based on a shared philosophy in which common goods are created (abbreviated as “commons”) for the benefit of all. Behaviour is controlled by social norms, rather than legal regulations. The motivation in participating is less profit, but greater meaningful contributions to society for the benefit of all.

Contribution in Open Source/FOSS projects is based on several factors, for example:

  • Interest-based
    What would I like to contribute to? What do I want to use?
  • Non-binding
    Not a must. What do I like to do? What do I feel like doing?
  • According to ability
    What am I particularly good at? What do I want to learn as I try new things?

The results are very interesting, diverse projects that arise from the personal will of developers and are cultivated by these individuals or by their collaborators. Passion and enthusiasm are reflected in these projects, without any material incentive necessary.

License Models

Without the appropriate license models, the realization and maintenance of FOSS projects would be much more difficult. A license model is a usage agreement chosen by the developer for the project that gives all of us a reliable, stable framework to work with. License models set clear guidelines and specify what you can do with the open-source code. The general goal is to keep the software or artwork available for everyone. License models are much less restrictive than other commercial license agreements.

For software, licenses like the GNU Public License (GPL) or BSD License are in use. Information goods, drawings, and audio and video data are commonly licensed under Creative Commons [1]. All license models are legally verified. The use of license models has continually risen during the last decade and is widely accepted nowadays.

10 Reasons for Open Source

The central questions around open source software include, “Why is open source software a good thing for you?” “What are the advantages of using an open source license for software or Creative Commons for artwork?” and “How can using open source software put you ahead of your competitors as a company?” Below, you will find our list of the top ten reasons to use open source coding.

1. Availability of Source Code
You can see the source code of software entirely, download it, get inspired, and use the basic structure for your own projects. Open Source is highly configurable and allows you as a developer to create your own custom variants for meeting your specific needs and requirements.

2. Availability of Software
Everyone can download and use open source software. There are no limitations regarding the user group or intended audience, purpose, frequency of use, and devices on which open source software can be installed. There are no license fees to pay, either.

3. Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
With open source code, there are no license or usage fees. As a commercial service, costs apply only to implementation, setup, configuration, maintenance, documentation, and support services.

4. Brings the World Closer

Through open source communities, you can easily contact other developers from other countries, ask them questions, and learn from them, as well as the code or artwork they have written and published. This encourages global teamwork and collaboration which improves and diversifies the applications of shared technology. You will find that open source communities are created and thrive because everyone has a common goal to support and improve the code more quickly, more innovatively, and more effectively, such that the community and beyond can reap the benefits.

5. FOSS Offers Diversity

The use of open source standards does not limit the available software pool to a single software, but widens it. Using open source, you can choose from among a variety of different implementations and software solutions according to your own unique needs.

6. Educational Possibilities

Open source is vital to the educational advancement of all because both information and resources are now freely available. You can learn from other developers how they are creating code and using the software that they have shared through open source.

7. Creates Opportunities & Community

As open source software brings new ideas and contributions, the developer community becomes an increasingly vibrant community that can share ideas freely. Through the community, you can meet people with similar interests. It is said that many hands make light work; similarly, it is much easier to deliver outstanding outcomes if the code is developed by an “army” of talented individuals working as a team to troubleshoot and deliver in record time.

8. FOSS Encourages Innovation

FOSS fosters a culture of sharing and experimentation. You are encouraged to be innovative by coming up with new ideas, products, and methods. Be inspired by what you learn from others. Solutions and options can also be marketed much more quickly, and open source allows developers to try, test, and experiment with the best available solutions.

9. Trust
By testing your software through open source, customers and users can see what your product is doing what are its limitations. Customers can take a look at how the software works, validate it, and customize it if necessary. This creates trust in what the product or software is doing. Nobody likes solutions or software products that are mysterious and difficult to understand.

10. Reliability and Security

The more people that are working together on the code, the higher is the reliability of that code. A code based on collaboration will be superior because it is easier to pick up any bugs and select the best fix. Security is also improved, as the code is thoroughly assessed and evaluated by the community of developers that have access to it. It is common to have tester groups who check new releases. Any issues that may arise are fixed diligently by the community.

Examples of Successful Usage of Open Source (Use Cases)

FOSS has not been a niche market for long. The most prominent examples are Linux-based computer systems that are in use everywhere — from web servers, to TVs, to network appliances like wireless access points. This immensely reduces licensing costs and increases the stability of the core infrastructure on which many fields, companies, and industries depend. Companies like Facebook and Google use FOSS to run their services — this includes the website, the Android phone, as well as the search engine, and the Chrome web browser.

The list remains incomplete without mentioning the Open Source Car (OSCar) [4,5], OpenStreetMap [6], Wikimedia [7] as well as LibriVox [8], a service that provides free audiobooks read by volunteers from all over the world. Below, you will find a selection of case studies that we think might inspire you to use FOSS-based solutions.

Case Studies

1. Makoko, Nigeria

The shantytown slum community of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria houses nearly 95,000 people. A complete map of this town is now available on Google maps due to the availability of Open Source coding in Africa, courtesy of the Code for Africa Initiative together with the World Bank [9]. Originally, Makoko did not appear on any maps or city planning documents [23]. At one point, it was only 3 dots on the map, regardless of the fact that it is one of the largest slums in Africa with a complex system of waterways and houses.

Through data collection, this initiative created jobs for women from the community, who were taught to use drones to collect the data needed to create a map of the community. The collected data, which included highly detailed pictures and information about the waterways, streets, and buildings, were analyzed by data analysts before being uploaded online using OpenStreetMap.

This initiative is improving the lives and the view of this society with the aim to improve Makoko’s information infrastructure. If this initiative had not been performed using closed source software, the costs and funds required to do this would have been prohibitive due to the additional cost of items such as data, funds to pay the staff, buying the hardware, transport, logistics costs, licensing, and permits.

2. Computing Cluster at Mésocentre de Calcul, Université de Franche-Comté, France

The Université de Franche-Comté, located in Marseille, France, runs a computing center for scientific computing [10]. The primary areas of research include nanomedicine, chemical-physical processes and materials, and genetic simulations. CentOS and Ubuntu Linux are used to provide a high-performance, parallel computing infrastructure.

3. GirlHype Coders (Women Who Code), Cape Town, South Africa

Baratang Miya [11] — a self-taught coder — started GirlHype Coders [12,24] in 2003 as an initiative to empower young girls in Africa. This is a software engineering school that is focused on training young women and girls on how to program and develop apps to improve their digital literacy and economic mobility. Baratang Miya aims to increase the percentage of women in the science, engineering, and technology industries. Clubs are operated so that girls can attend free after-school classes to explore and learn coding.

GirlHype is helping to improve not just the lives of the girls and women that are in this initiative, but also their communities, through a global tech entrepreneurship competition called Technovation, of which GirlHype is the regional ambassador. In this program, girls find a problem in their communities, design a solution for it, and using Open Source coding, build an app for that solution. Other women who are qualified coders have the opportunity to mentor and lead younger women in the industry. GirlHype also teaches women in business how to use the web to market their businesses online. This initiative has helped girls to get jobs in an industry they would otherwise not have been able to work in.

Twitter VP of Engineering visit to GirlHype in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa [25]

4. Cartoons and Open Source

Open Source is becoming the norm for software development for the sake of collaboration and contribution. Companies are increasingly moving towards using Open Source technologies for their programming needs. In the world of cartoons and animation, this is because this approach allows the industry to attract outside talent in independent developers and artists, as well as creating an industry standard where diverse individuals collaborate on and adopt the same technology.

Among those in the industry that have embraced this technology idea include Pixar Animation Studios [13], which has open sourced their Universal Scene Description (USD) technology [14]. USD helps filmmakers with reading, writing, and previewing 3D scene data, allowing many different artists to work on the same project. Pixar has also released the software RenderMan [15], a photorealistic 3D rendering software free for non-commercial purposes such as educational purposes and personal projects.

From Free Software to a Free Society

Ten years ago, Thomas Winde and Frank Hofmann asked the question, “What would happen if FOSS principles were transferred to society and thus changed the model of society?” [3] The implementation of this step is often doubted and classified as utopia. We wanted to know more about it. The result of our investigation was a curious look at our society (from a predominantly European view) that observed the evolution of processes that consciously or unconsciously followed FOSS principles. We found a long list of surprising examples, ranging from free wireless networks like Freifunk [16] to open libraries, free hardware projects (RaspberryPi, Arduino, BeagleBoard), non-profit office communities, the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) [17], and the sharing of recipes such as FreeBeer [18] and OpenCola [19].

Our conclusion was that a more general, systemic adoption of FOSS principles promises to make a significant positive difference to our global society. A transition from wage labor to voluntary, community-based work could help to achieve, step by step, a free society, in which the needs of all can be recognized and met. On the African continent, this idea of community is very strong (“Ubuntu” [20]), while in Europe and North America, it has been lost over the centuries in favor of a profit-oriented approach.

Conclusion

People for whom the FOSS philosophy is new, and who grew up with a capitalistic, profit-based model of society, may come up with a number of reasonable questions in regard to open source content. Here, we will answer some of the most common questions:

  • Can someone steal my “invention”?
    Through open source, we simply share our ideas, and we benefit from each other through this sharing of ideas. It is common practice, however, to give credit to the people who helped us to develop the idea.
  • How much can we learn from each other?
    There is so much knowledge and there are so many ways of doing things to simplify and develop society. In using open source, we are learning together and teaching society, so that everyone benefits at the same time. The best solutions come from collaboration, as it multiplies and expands upon individual knowledge. Everyone has an idea that may inspire the other users, boost creativity, and encourage innovation.
  • We are standing on the shoulders of giants to make something great. Our work is based on the work of others. What can we give back to the community?

    As individuals, we can evaluate a solution and report what is missing or whether the code is not working as expected. This feedback helps creators look at specific points, and repair or improve their code. This may include the insertion of missing parts in the documentation that can make it difficult to understand the idea behind the solution and the code’s intended use.

    As a company that uses FOSS, you can also contribute support for hardware (running in a computing center), or sponsor events by providing meeting rooms or co-organizing conferences. Many scientific institutes and companies allow their employees to work on FOSS projects while being at work — the time spent improving open source code helps to improve the software that is used by the company.

    A charity organization called Architecture for Humanity, recently renamed to Open Architecture Network [21, 22], is a free, online, open source community dedicated to improving global living conditions through innovative and sustainable building designs. This network includes project management, file sharing, a resource database, and online collaborative design tools. Through the use of open source software, this organization seeks to bring solutions to humanitarian crises by building community schools, homes, centers, etc. They do this by making professional architectural designs freely available, allowing architects, designers, innovators, and community leaders to share innovative and sustainable ideas, designs, and plans that support eco-friendly, humanitarian design and architecture. This organization was started as an initiative to help communities and was not focused on code, but rather on practical help.

References

 

AUTHORS

The article was written by two authors — Plaxedes Nehanda and Frank Hofmann.

About the author

Avatar

Frank Hofmann

Frank Hofmann is an IT developer, trainer, and author and prefers to work from Berlin, Geneva and Cape Town. Co-author of the Debian Package Management Book available from dpmb.org.