Open Source As a Way of Life

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Open Source (http://www.opensource.org/) is a software license philosophy that strongly encourages the free distribution of usable (unobfuscated) source code. (Obfuscating is a process in which source code is intentionally made unreadable by people but is still functional.)

The idea behind open source is that, with freely distributed source code, software will naturally evolve and improve as it is worked on by hundreds or thousands of independent programmers.

Public license is the term used to denote source code that is released for public use, although there might be restrictions on this usage. Several licenses have been created. Some are compatible with each other, and some are not.

The Netscape Public License (NPL) is the license Netscape used to release the source for the Navigator web browser. This license contains special considerations for Netscape, which some developers do not feel are acceptable. Anything derived from NPL is covered by NPL, so if you change a NPL licensed file, the result, in its entirety, is also licensed under NPL.

The Mozilla Public License (MozPL) is the same as NPL, with the deletion of any provisions for preferential treatment of Netscape. If you create code files that are completely new, without any NPL licensed code, you can elect to have your code covered under MozPL in lieu of NPL.

BSD, developed by the University of California at Berkley, is a license that allows virtually unlimited use of source code, requiring only that the copyright holder be referenced in the source code.

The GNU General Public License (GPL) makes source code freely available but has a very complex set of rules. This license is somewhat incompatible with the other licenses.

The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) is used to protect code so that some derivative works would be not covered by the GPL. (It was originally called the GNU Library General Public License.)

The Artistic License is similar to GPL, in that if software code is distributed outside the organization, it must be freely distributed.

Copyleft is essentially having your work free and requiring that all derivative work also be free essentially, it is GPL.

With that collection of licenses, anyone would be confused. A reasonable summary of Open Source follows:

  • Source is freely distributable to anyone, and anyone can distribute the source. Most licenses allow only for a nominal copy charge (those who do usually sell a CD-R for about $10.)

  • You can add to, modify, or improve the original. If you distribute your product to the public, so must you with the entire source code.

  • You can make derivative products using some or the entire source. Your derivative product would be bound by the same rules.

Tip

The Netscape Public License contains the provision that Netscape can use anything licensed using the NPL in its commercial products. This provision is the only exception in the making of profit on open-source software.

Anything you do to Firefox and the other related products (such as Thunderbird) can be used by Netscape. I am unaware, however, of any cases where this has caused any problems.

This provision was necessary because Netscape used the same technology in other products (such as servers) and had commitments to continue selling the Netscape Navigator browser to some commercial customers. Netscape continues to this day to offer its browser, which is now based on Firefox. It can be downloaded free or a CD version can be ordered.


Is Open Source here to stay? Absolutely. Will Microsoft ever adopt (even in a limited way) Open Source? Possibly. Several groups have suggested that Microsoft release the source for Windows 95. Microsoft does offer a free command-line version of the C/C++ compiler (not source, however) at http://msdn.microsoft.com/visualc/vctoolkit2003/. This compiler and linker comes with all the necessary standard include and library files and some sample programs you can build.

http://www.whereswalden.com/mozilla/msvcfree/ contains an excellent article by MIT student Jeff Walden on retrieving additional free Microsoft components and building Mozilla programs.

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    Firefox and Thunderbird. Beyond Browsing and Email
    Firefox and Thunderbird Garage
    ISBN: 0131870041
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2003
    Pages: 245

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