When the Linux system comes into play, one of the benefits often mentioned is the amount of free software programs available. However, for those who are not sure open source, it is natural for some doubts and misunderstandings to arise.
One of the most common misunderstandings is due to the confusion between open source and free software, which are different things, despite “going together”.
Open source strictly refers to the source code of software, while free software is an open source program developed based on principles of freedom.
So, what does this freedom mean in the software world? Why is open source so important and what is its role? The answers to these and other questions you will find in this same post. Ready to start digging into the matter?
What Is Open Source?
Each and every software has a source code, which is the set of lines of programming code that form the entire structure of the software.
When you buy software, you are not acquiring its source code, that is, there is no legal authorization that allows you to access the code. The same happens with most free programs (freeware).
However, when the program in question is open source, it means that its source code is open, free for any user to access, read and modify its content — whether to carry out tests or to optimize the features.
The GNU/Linux operating system is a great example of open source software. Not by chance, there are numerous distributions — which are also made available with open source.
A Practical Example of How Open Source Works
Let’s assume that a software developer has installed a browser, whose source code is free, and, when testing it, concluded that the browser has interesting qualities but that, in terms of security and intuitiveness, it can be improved.
After the analysis, the programmer decides to improve the browser’s functionalities, adding buttons, shortcuts and new items in the menu to make browsing more agile, in addition to creating a layer of security that detects some types of attacks.
Finally, he dedicates himself to making the modifications and creates his version of the same browser — now more practical and less vulnerable — and distributes it to other users, keeping the source code open.
Contrary to what many would assume, the programmer did not break any rules or ignore the manufacturer’s request for a license, as it was never needed. Open source allows you to do this all legally.
In practice, this is how open source works, in order to contribute not only to the evolution of the software, but to the improvement of the knowledge of an IT professional — especially if he is a beginner.
What Is Free Software?
When we talk about free software, we are not just talking about the software itself, but also about the principles included in its development.
The first point to be made clear about free software is that it is not synonymous with freeware — software that is freely distributed, but that it may have source code restrictions. In this case, the “free” refers to freedom and not gratuitousness.
But where did free software come from? The creation of criteria that classify software as free derives from the GNU Manifesto, written by Richard Stallman, and aims to establish rules that determine whether the program “respects the freedom and being of the users’ community” ( Free Software Foundation).
The fact that software is free does not necessarily mean that it is free. The difference that the term “free” adds to these programs is the guarantee of four essential freedoms they must provide for their users:
- freedom to run the program for any purpose;
- the freedom to study with the program, and adapt it to your needs;
- the freedom to redistribute copies so that you can help others;
- the freedom to distribute copies of their modified versions to others.
These rules were created by the Free Software Foundation itself and, as we can see, open source is a prerequisite for asserting freedom, considered a user’s right. Therefore, the concept of open source is linked to that of free software.
5 Essential Open Source Programs
Did you know that most of the programs you use on your computer can be open source? Want to know which ones you should be looking for? Check, below, a list of the main programs that have the open source.
You may already know Firefox, right? For those who don’t know, Firefox is one of the most used browsers in the world, developed by Mozilla — an organization that develops software for the non-profit web. Open source is one of the main benefits of the browser, which even has projects aimed at its development.
Also developed by Mozilla, Thunderbird is an open source program that replaces Outlook. It’s recognized for its performance, practicality and safety — and, of course, it’s free.
The VirtualBox allows users to create virtual machines with different operating systems, that is, it’s like having a variety of servers or desktops on a single CPU. However, its functions can be adapted as per your needs, thanks to open source.
For a long time now, the so-called “torrents” have fallen in love with internet users as to how to download and share files online. BitTorrent is one of the most popular P2P programs and is open source, free to be examined and modified.
VLC Media Player
Without a doubt, VLC is one of the most efficient media players available on the internet, practically free from problems regarding format compatibility or obscure flaws. If you know how to make it even better, just modify the program using its open source.
Now that you know what open source is, you’ve learned why you can’t ignore this great feature that can contribute (a lot!) to your career growth.
So, remember that GNU/Linux is a system that offers great advantages for your development environment and will contribute a lot to your future projects.