7 Ways Open-Source Software Changed the World

Bertel King 16-02-2018

Whether you’re aware of it or not, open-source software has had an impact on the way you live your life. You may know of open source programs that are free to download and available for anyone to edit. But do you know how the term “open source” began?


The phrase comes from a movement in the late 90s to rebrand free software in a more ethically neutral way. Two men involved in this movement, Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens Who Made Linux and Why Is It Free? Linux is the most widely-used free and open source operating system in the world. Unlike commercial alternatives, no person or company can take credit. But why is it free? And who is behind Linux? Read More , founded the Open Source Initiative in 1998. This organization maintains an official definition of open source software and works to expand adoption of the concept.

February 2018 marks OSI’s 20th anniversary, and the effort to spread open source has been a resounding success. Here are a few of the ways open source software has changed the world.

1. Open Source Desktops Have Become Viable

When the Open Source Initiative started, Linux had only been around for roughly half a decade. The K Desktop Environment (as it was then known) was a year old. GNOME didn’t yet exist. Linux simply was not something particularly easy for someone to use as a replacement for Windows or Mac OS.

That situation has changed.

Linux is now straightforward to install and easy to use Switch from Windows to Linux and Get Up and Running in Minutes Switching from Windows to Linux might seem complex, but it's easy! Here's how to your get important data and programs from one OS to the other. Read More . There are many desktop environments to choose from Which Linux Desktop Environment Best Suits Your Personality? What kind of computer user are you? Do you leave icons scattered across your desktop? Do you prefer to work in one uncluttered application? Let's find out which Linux desktop environment suits you best. Read More , many of which are welcoming to first-time Linux users. There are mature open source programs available to handle most tasks. I exclusively use Linux in my work as a writer Why Linux Is Great for Freelance Professionals I've managed to build a career writing online, using just a Linux computer. Let me show you how you can use Linux to manage your professional life, from managing finances to finding clients. Read More , and I don’t have any need to use something else.


2. The Top 500 Supercomputers Run Linux

Supercomputers crunch an insane amount of math, making trivial work of tasks that would require legions of people and countless hours of time. These machines are how meteorologists, for example, are able to compare a deluge of regularly changing variables (temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure, humidity, etc.) to create accurate weather models and deliver forecasts.

Supercomputers also make the world a cleaner and safer place, allowing scientists to run simulations instead of actually blowing things up.

Supercomputers are specialized, which is one of the strengths of open source software. People are free to use only the components they need, change them as necessarily, and make whatever additions are necessary without having to pay or check in with anyone. This is part of the reason why all 500 of the world’s top supercomputers now run Linux.

3. Many Transportation Systems Also Run Linux

Many large infrastructure projects such as US air traffic control rely on Linux to monitor all the airplanes in the sky. Train companies use Linux to keep track of what’s inside of freight cars. Linux also powers some of the pumps you see at gas stations. Some airplanes use Linux to power their entertainment systems Linux Is Everywhere: 10 Things You Didn't Know Were Penguin-Powered If you think the world rests on Windows, think again. Linux plays a crucial role in keeping our world going. Read More .


Google uses Linux inside of self-driving cars, and it’s hardly the only one. Traditional car manufacturers such as General Motors and Volkswagen also turn to Linux for their self-driving projects.

The International Space Station transports people around the earth. And guess what? It runs Linux too.

4. Open Source Is Behind Many Smartphones

Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, is based on Linux. We’ve reached a point where when a new company wants to enter the market, they don’t think to create a new system from scratch, they base their work on Android or another version of Linux (such as Tizen).

For better or worse, new mobile devices are coming to market running Linux by the day.


Though while many of these phones use open source operating systems, the interfaces on top are often closed Is Android Really Open Source? And Does It Even Matter? Here we explore whether or not Android is really open source. After all, it is based on Linux! Read More . Without modification, the Android phone you get from the store is effectively a closed source product.

5. Open Source Runs the Cloud

People are increasingly leaving behind local apps on their desktops in favor of services they access via their web browser. These sites exist on someone else’s computers, and they’re often the product of open source software.

Linux and other open source operating systems like FreeBSD 3 UNIX-Like Operating Systems That Aren't Linux Recently, people started to confuse "UNIX" with "Linux." Linux was influenced by UNIX, but UNIX systems have no relation to Linux. Here are some important UNIX-based systems worth knowing about. Read More are popular options for servers, computers that are primarily intended for other machines to accesses remotely.

Big data platforms such as Kubernetes and MondoDB are working on the backend. Competition is fierce among names like CloudStack, OpenShift, and OpenStack.


Developers, for the most part, prefer open source tools. This is also the reason so many open source programming languages are on the rise.

6. The Web Is More Accessible

Thanks to open source software, it has become easier for anyone to create their own website. While you have to pay for someone to host your website and for a domain name, creating the actual site doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

WordPress is an open-source backend to many of the sites you visit online Set Up Your Blog With WordPress: The Ultimate Guide Want to start your own blog but don't know how? Look to WordPress, the most powerful blogging platform available today. Read More . You can pay for themes or certain add-ons, but the free nature and adaptability have helped WordPress spread all over the web.

Admittedly, people have had the option to create their own website for free since the beginning of the World Wide Web. The catch is that they needed to know a programming language such as HTML in order to do so.

These days you only need to know how to point and click. This has changed whose voices we hear online, and how many are speaking.

7. “Open” Has Spread Beyond Code

While all computer code was open in the decades before the US Supreme Court decided it could be subject to copyright law, by the time the OSI came along, that reality had long passed. To release code for others to view, edit, and built upon was a niche idea.

Since then, not only has the concept of open source code gained hold, the idea has spread to other fields. You can now find innovations in open-source governance, open education, open business, open agriculture, and the list goes on.

People from many walks of life are embracing the idea that the systems which impact us should be open to view, access, and take part in.

Open Source Is Everywhere

I’m grateful to the people who thought up the idea of open source software and to all who have decided to make their programs free for others to use and edit.

These tools have aided me throughout most of my computing life. They are great resources, and I strongly recommend them 5 Reasons Why Software Should Be Free and Open Source Free software doesn't just mean you get to use the app or game without paying. It's about longevity, privacy, ownership, and much more! Read More to anyone wondering if they’re a safe and capable alternative to typical commercial software.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Joseph J Pollock
    February 23, 2018 at 5:06 am

    Very nice article with two small, but glaring errors - both introduced by articles you link to. 1) UNIX is unrelated to Linux. Although the code base of Linux is (almost?) 100% separate from UNIX, many of the commands have the same names and functions. The underlying design is also quite similar. So they are quite related. 2) All software should be open source. I love FOSS, but that's ridiculous. I don't want open source software launching missiles. There's no reason why both forms can't coexist. For public facing systems, FOSS is definitely preferable, but in small niches and some things like military systems, it's probably not the best idea.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      February 23, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks! As for your concerns:

      1) Are you referring to this link? //

      Unless I'm missing something, it says precisely what you're saying, that UNIX and Linux are unrelated but similar. Linux isn't UNIX, but it is UNIX-like.

      2) Is this the relevant link? //

      I don't say in that article that all software should be open source. However, I do see that the short bio summarizing the article does make that claim. I'll see what I can do about that, because I agree with you that there are scenarios where open source software isn't ideal.

      • Joseph J Pollock
        February 24, 2018 at 5:50 am

        "Linux was influenced by UNIX, but UNIX systems have no relation to Linux. " Relation" isn't just about heredity. Even some of the Windows CLI comes from ideas of UNIX, so they're related. If you know the Linux CLI, you can jump right into UNIX and vice versa. Some things are not the same, but more is the same than different. If you look at the kernels themselves (using a more strict definition of what Linux is), that's a different story, but almost no one thinks of just the kernel when speaking of Linux.

  2. Gazoo
    February 17, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    The one area that I hope it will have a bigger impact in the years to come is the connection between Open Source and privacy issues. Open Source, by it's very nature is open to inspection and more readily vetted against the predatory aspects of tracking and surveillance.

    As OSS (Open Source Software) users, we take these things for granted when there is nothing in the licenses or old-fashion groupthink that include privacy protection. That is, you can have predatory Open Sourced programs and Operating Systems as part of your business model (ala Android).

    It might be incumbent on this current generation of users to redefine a new category of OSS to include privacy-respecting... Surveillance and general malware-like behavior remain the most serious issue in technology these days with no end in sight.

    • Mike Walsh
      February 18, 2018 at 9:38 pm

      Hardly surprising that most of the world's 'super-systems' run Linux these days. If they had to rely on Windoze, with its constant freeze-ups and never-ending updates (followed, of course, by a REBOOT!), the world would come to a screeching halt every 5 mins.

      Do yourself a favour; wake up and join the REAL world. The closed-source, proprietary Windoze model is a walled, 'fantasy-bullshit' garden. The only reason so many folks have had to rely on it for so long is due to the back-room, under-the-table 'handshakes' which have seen it literally being rammed down the throats of every average Joe that ever forked out for a computer...

      • Joseph J Pollock
        February 24, 2018 at 5:56 am

        My only surprise is that some of those aren't based on BSD. It has most of the advantages of Linux and I hear that it's easier to harden.