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Open source software What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More is awesome! Or is it? Despite the growing popularity of open source alternatives 14 Free & Open Source Alternatives For Paid Software 14 Free & Open Source Alternatives For Paid Software Don't waste money on software for personal use! Not only do free alternatives exist, they most likely offer all the features you need and may be easier and safer to use. Read More to all kinds of proprietary programs, many people still misunderstand the nature of the open source industry.

Some people think that open source software will ruin the world of programming. Others believe that open source software is the only hope for humanity. Bad myths are circulated by both extremes, making it hard to discern the underlying truths of it all.

Do you still believe these open source myths?

Myth: Open Source Is for Linux Users

open-source-myths-linux

Linux’s history and environment is steeped in open source culture, so it’s easy to see why people assume that open source software is “a Linux phenomenon”. And to an extent, the statement is true: many open source programs are made with Linux availability as a prime motivator.

But if you’re a Windows or Mac user and think you don’t need to concern yourself with these things, you’re mistaken. In fact, there’s a good chance that some of your favorite programs are open source and you just didn’t know it.

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Examples include VLC, Pidgin, GIMP, Audacity, Calibre, and WinCDEmu, among others.

The truth is, open source programs are still useful even if you don’t adhere to the open source philosophy. It’s not just for Linux freaks and geeks; it’s for everyone. In the end, that’s what open source is all about, anyway.

Myth: Open Source Is Less/More Secure

open-source-myths-security

Information security is a big deal these days, but what’s funny is that people on both sides of the battlefield — those who are for and those who are against open source software — use “security” to prop up their arguments.

On one side you have those who claim that publicly-available code inherently makes a program insecure. After all, it exposes the internal workings of a program for malicious eyes, making it easier for hackers and malware creators to break in and exploit vulnerabilities.

On the other side you have those who claim that open source programs are more secure. Opening the code up to the public means having more eyes that can catch errors and more hands that can quickly patch security holes when needed.

The reality is that both sides are right depending on the context. What everyone can agree on is this: open source software faces a different set of problems than proprietary software. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other.

Myth: Big Companies Avoid Open Source

People write open code Why Do People Contribute to Open Source Projects? Why Do People Contribute to Open Source Projects? Open source development is the future of software. It's great for users because open source software is usually available gratis and often safer to use. But what compels developers to contribute code for free? Read More  for many reasons, mostly involving amateur or independent programmers. As such, people think that “serious companies” like Microsoft or Apple are above the open source cause.

That’s not quite true, though.

Last year, Microsoft went ahead and open sourced their .NET Framework A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More , a move that generated a lot of chatter amongst programmers. This year, Apple followed suit and open sourced their Swift programming language Apple's Swift Is Going Open Source: So What? Apple's Swift Is Going Open Source: So What? Even if you aren't a programmer yourself, Apple's decision to open source Swift will impact you. Want to know why and how? Read More , another move that shocked programmers worldwide.

Here we have two of the world’s most proprietary companies warming up to the open source ideal. Never again can somebody say that open sourcing is only for amateurs and independents. When it works, it works — no matter who you are.

Myth: “Do Whatever You Want”

open-source-myths-licenses

The concept of open source is simple: the actual code behind a given program is made available to the public. When people hear this, the immediate thought tends to be, “What if someone steals the code?”

And in fact, some people do steal open code. Some people believe that if code is made available to the public, they can go ahead and use it however they want — but that’s not how it works. Like images, videos, and music, software is also protected by copyright Concerned About Copyright? A Guide For Legally Using Images On The Web Concerned About Copyright? A Guide For Legally Using Images On The Web Copyright is a complex subject. A fair amount of understanding makes it easier. If you're wondering under what circumstances you can use someone else's creative work -- expect some answers here. Read More .

Long story short, this means you have to obey the stipulations of whatever open source license Open Source Software Licenses: Which Should You Use? Open Source Software Licenses: Which Should You Use? Did you know that not all open source licenses are the same? Read More the code is released under.

There are some licenses (such as the BSD and MIT licenses) that actually do permit you to “do whatever you want” with the code, even going as far as allowing you to commercialize derivatives and what not. But not every license is like that, and it’s your responsibility to find out what’s permitted and obey.

Myth: Open Source Coding Is Chaotic

open-source-myths-chaotic

Imagine trying to design a car with a hundred other people shouting their suggestions at you. Hectic and frustrating, right? “Design by committee” rarely works in the real world, so why does it work for software development?

Well, it doesn’t. Open source development is not “design by committee”, even though it certainly sounds that way on paper.

“But I thought anybody could contribute to an open source project!” They can, but public contributions are vetted and approved by those who manage the project. If a proposed change doesn’t fit the project’s vision, it can be denied. The whole process is surprisingly straightforward and orderly.

But when project leadership starts to disagree on vision and direction, that’s when things can get messy — and that’s when projects get forked Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Sometimes, the end-user benefits greatly from forks. Sometimes, the fork is done under a shroud of anger, hatred and animosity. Let's look at some examples. Read More , a term that describes the process of cloning open source code as a separate project and developing it in a different direction from the original aim.

Myth: Open Source Coding Is Pro Bono

open-source-myths-pro-bono

Just because open source software is often made available for free doesn’t mean that open source developers work for free. Some do, of course, but there are several ways for an open source programmer to make money Understanding How Open Source Software Developers Make Money Understanding How Open Source Software Developers Make Money The truth is: many OSS developers and projects do generate revenue. Read More .

Sometimes a program is so useful and critical to a company’s workflow that the company will sponsor the coders of said program and provide funding so that they can keep working on it.

Another example is when programmers offer the source code for free but charge for binary downloads. Take it one step further and you’ll find programmers who provide the downloads for free but charge for technical support.

That’s just scratching the surface, but it does show that pro bono is not a necessary attribute for an open source developer.

What Other Myths Are Out There?

Knowing that the above myths are exaggerated and/or untrue, does you feel more likely or less likely to embrace open source software? Personally, I’m neutral on the matter. If a program is good, I’ll use it no matter how it was made.

That being said, we know that plenty of other open source myths are still floating around on the web, so if you encounter any, feel free to tell us about them.

What are your thoughts on the open source movement? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Abstract Computer by bluebay via Shutterstock, Locked Laptop by rangizzz via Shutterstock, Code Syntax by photovibes via Shutterstock, Group Arguing by Ellagrin via Shutterstock, Desktop Programmer by Corepics via Shutterstock

  1. Gene Ricky Shaw
    August 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    One of the myths: open source software consistently gets improved. There are hundreds if not thousands of FOSS packages out there that are abandoned.

    • Joel Lee
      August 22, 2015 at 4:28 am

      Oh, good one! It's always disheartening to see a promising project lose all of its developers. Then again, this isn't a problem that's unique to FOSS, but it's true: FOSS doesn't guarantee that a project will live on. Thanks Gene!

  2. Eddie O'Connor
    August 2, 2015 at 1:44 am

    I have been using open source software since around 2004, in the form of Linux. I don't consider it free as in there's no cost, but I consider it free as in free speech, and I always contribute to the distros that I use to ensures that I'm not a hollow drum just making noise about it, but that I'm actually helping in any way that I can. I'm in the process of learning how to program, and once I've gotten this down fully? I might try to write something for some distro that could use a helping hand. I wish more people would delve into the information available about open source programs instead of just going by what their friend at work tells them...or the know-it-all in the mailroom!

    • Joel Lee
      August 22, 2015 at 4:29 am

      That's really cool, Eddie. It's pretty rare, in my experience, to find people who will actually donate to free and open source projects in support of the developers. It's a noble thing to do.

      • Jim Traianos
        August 25, 2015 at 10:28 am

        Say what? Do you even "linux not backed by a corporation" bro? Ok it might not be quite obvious for some distros that donation is one of their biggest profit makers but did you even check their websites? They're cleaner than pure white and the only distro I can think that doesn't get a lot of money that way is linux mint with the sponsors at the right of the main page but they still make 5000$ in donations. You're probably those that just take a popular distro and then modify it to their like.

  3. Rico Robbins
    July 30, 2015 at 4:18 am

    Here's a common myth that not many people like to think about: Open source software is always free.

    Yes and no. Most people equate open source software with freeware in being available to use at no cost. However, this isn't strictly true. Open source software can be sold, depending on the license, or even integrate open source software with propriety, commercial software. The most well-known example of this is Mac OS X, which integrates Apple's open source Darwin operating system with proprietary API's. Even open source software that is free may be sold, like when you can purchase a pre-made Ubuntu install disk. You can easily download and create on yourself at no cost, but if you want a pre-made one, you have to buy it. What makes something open source is if the source code, in full, is available to the general public for free (as in free speech, not necessarily free beer).

    A good look at the issue can be found at this GNU web page: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.en.html

    • Joel Lee
      August 22, 2015 at 4:33 am

      Absolutely! OSS doesn't imply FOSS. I know that there used to be a lot of arguments in the Diku-based MUD community over whether or not MUD admins could charge players to play on their games, and that was because Diku used the GPL.

      In general, there seems to be a lot of mainstream confusion over whether open source is always free or not. Thanks for bringing up a great point, Rico. Maybe we can try to clarify it in the future with another post.

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