Open source software allows people around the world to undertake projects and collaborate without technological restrictions.
Internet and social networks have become crucial resources to the success of many projects, especially those of a social nature. These media have made it possible for crowdfunding networks and global collaboration to develop, thus enabling ideas to reach a wider audience. When we add to this the pooling of open source resources, we get an explosive cocktail: many entrepreneurs can achieve their goals with little or no initial capital.
What is open source?
Open source is a term that originated in the context of software development to refer to technology which code is “open”, that is, software that anyone can use, modify or improve. In a selfless, collaborative effort, programmers and designers continuously improve a program’s code and share the updates with the world.
This philosophy emerged in the early 1990s among the tech community as a response to corporate proprietary software. In Finland, Linus Torvalds, a computer science student dissatisfied with “Minix” operative system, decided to implement the first versions of the Linux kernel. Soon after, whole teams completed the operating system and made it stable. From then on, a creative whirlwind was unleashed. With the announcement of the Netscape release in 1998, the Open Source Initiative (whose goal to this day is to educate and advocate for the superiority of an open development process), was founded and the term Open Source was coined and registered.
However, when we talk about open source these days, we also refer to a set of values, something which some call “the open source way“: All projects, products or initiatives that are committed to the open exchange, collaborative participation, transparency and community development can be considered open source.
3 reasons why open source keeps gaining supporters
Up until recently, it seemed open source software was something for geeks, idealists wanting to boycott big companies or young people with limited resources. But things are changing and open source is becoming mainstream. So much so that larger companies and even governments are switching on to it. Why? Simply put, because…
It’s free. Although there are open source programs which have been privatized, most are free. Therefore, using Linux as your operating system instead of Windows or programs such as OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office, your company can save itself a significant investment.
Look at Chase Sagum’s content creation company, which saved an estimated $ 100,000 by using open source technology:
“The last thing we configured in was our web hosting costs. Because of open source software our Bluehost account is only costing us $6.95/month for 1,500 GB of hosting space and 15 TB of transfer. This alone, because we are a web business is saving us a ton of money! Through costs of software, and also development costs to build some of these tools, we estimated that our company was able to save $100,000 because of these open source applications. Can you say Wow! I am in no way counting in what these applications have made for us thus far. That would be an entirely different number. This is just money saved. That’s it.”
Or the case of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, a non-profit which was saved from going under by deploying open source software. Their story is amazing —when they realized they could no longer make ends meet, they decided to close the physical office and create a virtual workspace through HyperOffice, a cloud-based open source collaboration platform offering online meeting space, shared calendars, document management and business email, among others. Although the software is not totally free, “thousands of dollars were saved and reinvested towards the cause”, writes HyperOffice’s Pan Tan.
It’s confidential. Open source software is not full of spyware and security vulnerabilities. Providers can’t collect user data (such as which programs are downloaded) and personal information is safe.
It belongs to everybody. Because of open source tools, Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York are no longer the only global innovation centers. More and more entrepreneurs everywhere are taking advantage of the technological independence offered by open source software to create innovative products.
For example, WhatsApp in Dubai or the Ninja Sphere in Sydney —an open source gadget that allows you to control the temperature, light and energy use in your surroundings. The Ninja Sphere project is also particularly interesting because it managed to raise over $ 500,000 AUD thanks to crowdfunding.
Where to find open source resources
The Firefox browser, Thunderbird mail client, Sunbird calendar, ClamWin antivirus, VLC Media Player player, or iTunes substitute, MusikCube…There is free open source software for all needs; you just have to know where to look for it. Here are some favorites:
GitHub: It is a platform for collaborative software development where projects can be hosted using Git version control system. One of its main bonuses is social networking features, such as allowing the developer to have followers.
osCommerce: An application to easily launch your e-commerce portal.
Blender: Free software for 3D creation —explore modeling, animation, video compositing and editing, games and interactive content creation…
Gimp: Say goodbye to Photoshop thanks to this program which offers you advanced functionality for image processing.
Inkscape: The best alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Create, edit and manipulate vector objects such as graphics and logos.
Join the crowd
The open source software is part of a broader movement, almost a philosophy, seeking to create new collaboration and sharing models within the Internet. This is why now more than ever, in these times of economic uncertainty, it is experiencing unstoppable growth.
An interesting fact looking at Google Trends is that the term ‘Open Source’ is very popular in developing countries. The use of open software is essential to the technological development of these countries.
We’d like to finish with an example of how open source works both at small and large scale: in Ecuador, public administration currently works with open source software. In April 2008, President Rafael Correa declared open source software as state policy for the civil service. Since then, the Assembly started using Joomla (among others) servers, civil servants use the OpenOffice suite and even an electronic voting program has been developed. But they did not leave it at that —the Government run Office for Information Technology’s platform offers all kinds of information and training to empower citizens and users to lose the fear of open source software.
Photo credits Juha Riissanen