Leveraging Open Source Software: Your Questions Answered

Leveraging Open source software

Open source software is all around you. Odds are, you’ve used some in the past. You might even be using some right now. For example, the popular Internet browser, Firefox, is a prime example of open source software. It’s flexible and arguably the most feature-rich browser on the market. But, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and many other programs live in the open source community too.

Can Open Source Software Be Commercialized?

Yes. Open source isn’t a “freegan” movement in the software community. It doesn’t matter whether a company or individual sells or gives away software. The primary concern is whether the source code is left open and freely available for anyone to see. In many cases, licenses allow other users to modify the source code, but some developers place restrictions or conditions on modification.

Commercial is not the same as proprietary, however. In other words, an open source program cannot become the exclusive property of a single individual or company, making it unavailable to others.

Can A Developer Restrict How People Use Open Source Licenses?

Mostly, No. The freedom to use the program for any purpose cannot be prohibited or restricted. It’s part of the definition of open source. Licenses don’t discriminate against fields of endeavor, race, gender, or anything else. You can use it if you’re a business, a female or male, a foreigner, or if you’re just a lonely programmer looking for something to do on a Friday night.

There’s also no warranty on open source software, so you cannot sue someone if it blows up your data or nukes your motherboard or causes WWIII.

Can A Developer Stop “Evil People” From Using A Program?

Because open source software can be distributed through bittorrent P2P networks and software applications, like Vuze, it’s largely uncontrolled as far as distribution is concerned. Because of this it’s not really possible to control who ends up with it. The open source definition specifies that open source licenses may not discriminate against persons or groups. If the person really is “evil,” there are other laws that will constrain and hopefully detain that person.

What Is Free Software vs Open Source Software?

Free software refers to software that is freely available. There is no fee whatsoever. It says nothing about the copyright status or open or closed-nature of the software, however. Open source, on the other hand, specifies licensing and terms of use of software, rather than its cost.

So, a program like Paint.net might be free, but it’s also proprietary software. On the other hand, LibreOffice, is open source and free. There are other programs which could be sold for a fee or subscription, but which are also open source.

What Is Copyleft?

Copyleft is the practice of using copyright law to force the distribution of software and other works using strict licensing terms that prohibit traditional copyright protections of giving a copyright holder exclusive control over the uses of the work. Copyleft licenses require that source code be made available to everyone that the software is distributed to and that derivative works use the same license as the original work. While most Copyleft licenses are open source, not all open source licenses are copyleft. Copyleft usually only applies to actual derivatives where an existing copylefted work was modified.

Russell Lammers has spent his career programming intricate software systems. He often writes about the ins and outs of creating software for productivity and entertainment.

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