What Is Open Source?

Firefox is one of many open source products, along with the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, and the OpenOffice Suite. Open source products are products for which the source code is available for users to examine and, if they wish, to modify. This model promotes software reliability and quality via a worldwide community of developers who can submit their own improvements to the code or simply patch it for their specific needs. The open source model differs radically from the "closed source" or "proprietary" model used by Microsoft, Adobe, and most other software manufacturers, who will do almost anything to prevent outsiders from viewing their products' source code.

Open source software is not freeware (although most open source products, including Firefox, are free), nor does it just mean that users can have access to the source code. The license for a true open source product must provide for such things as

  • Free redistribution

  • Modified and derivative works (all of which can also be distributed under the same terms as the original product)

  • No discrimination against persons, groups, or fields of endeavor

  • No restrictions on other software

  • Software that's not predicated on a specific technology or style of interface (such as Microsoft's .NET technology or a requirement that the product looks like a Macintosh product)

Open source products are often released under the General Public License (GNU) or other similar licenses. Firefox is released under the Mozilla Public License, but if you're interested in finding out more, you can find a selection of open source licenses at the Open Source Initiative website (www.opensource.org).

Most open source products have a devoted community of hundreds and even thousands of developers who are deeply interested in making the products stronger and better. As a result, open source software tends to be more robust: as soon as bugs or security holes are found (all software has bugs), the community of programmers usually discusses the problem, and typically several people will develop and release patches to the source code.

According to the Open Source Initiative, open source is good for consumers and businesses because it lets everyone review, distribute, and modify the code for software, which results in a faster evolutionary cycle. You don't have to wait for [insert the name of any large software company here] to identify problems and issue patches or updates for a product; you can usually get a programmer to develop a custom correction or modification right away. In addition, because the source code is available, you're never held hostage by a company's pricing, its desire to release new versions, or its continued existence. The people who use the products can adapt, patch, or even enhance them to meet their own requirements.

FAQ: Are there other open source products?

Open source doesn't apply just to software. Creative Commons is open source-style licensing for all kinds of intellectual property: audio, images, video, texteven curricula of all kinds (http://creativecommons.org). The licenses let you release intellectual property for general distribution without losing all rights by putting it into the public domain. You can share the things you create while still having some license protection against outright expropriation of your work.

There's even open source beer: a delightful beer called "Vores Øl" ("our beer") is brewed by a group of students at the IT-University in Copenhagen under a Creative Commons License. The beer is deep golden-red with an aromatic hops bouquet. You can't buy the beerat least, not yetbut the recipe is published on their website (http://www.voresoel.dk/main.php?id=70), so you can brew it yourself. You can also use their recipe to create your own beers, even commercial brews, provided that you publish any derivative recipes under the same License.

    Firefox and Thunderbird Garage (Garage Series)
    Firefox and Thunderbird Garage
    ISBN: 0131870041
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2003
    Pages: 185

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