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What is open-source software?

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October 09, 2009 2:22PM

Open source software (OSS) is defined as computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open source software is the most prominent example of open source development and often compared to user-generated content. The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software. A report by Standish Group states that adoption of open source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.


The term open source ("OS") describes a type of production, dissemination and exploitation of software opposed to the so-called "proprietary" way of distribution. OS-software is usually produced in a collaborative process by a web-based community. The ultimate aim is to create stable, compatible and free software. In order to achieve this, the source code is "open" for anyone to see and distributed along with the software and the according license. By these means, any user of the software has access to the code, can learn about it and develop it further Free use, modification and distribution is the core concept of OS. Many, but not all OS-licenses are distributed with a so-called copyleft-clause. Copyleft licenses do not only license the aforementioned types of exploitation, they do so only under the condition of re-distribution under the same license. The Open Source Initiative awards a cachet to all licenses that are in compliance with its Open Source Definition, which is a worldwide acknowledged standard. OS-licenses have been successfully tested in courts.