Open source [ˌoʊ.pənˈsɔːrs]: a type of software, whose source code can be edited by anyone.
Open source software is software that everyone can contribute to. For example, the software of the broadly used Linux distribution Ubuntu is open sourced and everyone in the vast community of Ubuntu users can fix bugs or add new features to it.
Although it often is, open source doesn’t necessarily mean the software is free to use. Companies can let the coding community test and improve their code, but charge users for their product nonetheless. Or, as is often the case, they use parts open source software and parts proprietary software to build a product, which is non-free. That is why it is important to differentiate between open source and free software.
Where open source software focuses on the open access to source code and free redistribution, free software focuses on the ethics of free access to every part of the software and freedom to study, change, use and reuse it in any desired way. Free software is often associated with “no costs”, but the inventors of the movement had something else in mind: think freedom of speech, not free beer.
Platforms for contributing to open source and other software include GitHub, Bitbucket and Sourceforge. Open Source projects from for-profit companies include Intel Open Source and AMD’s initiative GPUOpen.
For more info on the subtle, but essential differences between open source and free software, you may read this post by Richard Stallman, a software freedom activist and founder of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation.Back to Dictionary