Software for which the source code is distributed with the Software is called open source software. Because of the availability of the source code, open source Software can be studied, improved, adapted and further distributed without restrictions. Everyone is free to make the best use of the Software without being restricted in any way [Working Group on Libre Software, 2000]. Open source Software is different from what is known as closed Software or proprietary software that is distributed in binary format that is readable for computers only and cannot be modified by people.
A wide-spread misunderstanding with respect to open source Software is that open Software is free of charge. This misunderstanding has arisen because in English the term free Software has often been used as a synonym for opens source software. The word free in English has several meanings, while free in relation to open source Software should be read as source code at everyone’s disposal, and not as free of charge. Some open source Software is free of charge, but this is not necessarily the case. However, the source code of open source Software is always accessible and available with the software.
Although open source Software has gained much publicity in the past few years, the concept of open source Software is certainly not new. In the 1960s, when IBM and other suppliers sold their first large mainframe computers, it was common practice to distribute the source code of the Software with the hardware. The Software could be shared with other companies, and could also be enhanced. The suppliers’ primary commercial interest lay with the hardware, and Software was considered a secondary product.
In the 1970s and 1980s this changed as a result of the emergence of the mini and personal computers.
Software and hardware were distributed more and more separately, and Software became a product on its own for which licenses were sold. The distribution of source code with Software became rare.
As a reaction to the restrictions of proprietary software, two groups arose in the 1970s that can be seen as the founders of the open source movement: the GNU Free Software Foundation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the BSD Unix group at the Berkeley University. Initially both groups focused on operating systems. As an example: the well-known open source operating system Linux has its origins in the GNU Free Software Foundation.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many of the isolated open source Software development initiatives were integrated.
Since then, open source has been recognized as a valid direction for Software development. Additionally, the quality of the developed Software has increased enormously. In some markets, open source products are even market leader. A good example is Apache: it is estimated that sixty percent of all worldwide websites run on this open source web server [Fermont, 2003]. Other examples of successful open source products are MySQL, database Software with four million users, Open Office, the open source suite for voice automation, or Android, the mobile phone and tablet operating system.
Universities and governments have already sponsored open source initiatives since their inception.
Today commercial organizations also spend time and resources on open source Software development.
The announcement of the publication of the source code of the Netscape browser in 1998 made large companies interested in open source. Nowadays, companies like Oracle, IBM, and Google investigate new market models to develop open source Software in a profitable way.
Various market models have now proven to be successful. The most obvious reason for making software
development resources available is building new functionality for open source Software that is already in use but does not fully match the requirements of a company. Other companies invest in specialist knowledge of open source applications, in order to be able to offer implementation consultancy services to companies that want to use the Software. Hardware suppliers often sponsor the development of operating systems or drivers for their products: the availability of an open source driver for a printer or a scanner can increase demand for that hardware. Many other products and services can be linked with open source software, such as books, magazines or training modules on open source. Finally, there are still open source Software developers, who participate in open source projects, because they enjoy the cooperation with others, or like the idea that their Software will be used by a large user community.
The Software development methodology used for open source deviates strongly from the methodology used for proprietary software. he latter is often developed under centralized supervision, access to the source code is restricted to a designated group of Software developers, and Software quality is attained by a strict segregation of duties: designers make the specifications for the software, developers write the Software source code and testers test whether the Software matches the specifications. These tasks are carried out sequentially: developers start when the specifications are ready, and testers start when the
Software is ready.
Open source Software is usually developed by so-called communities, groups of developers that work together on a project. The developers do not meet in person, but they meet virtually on open source hosting sites. One of the largest hosting sites is Source forge. This site hosts more than 100 000 projects, and the collective community consists of more than one million registered developers [Source forge, 2007].
In principle, specification, Software development, testing and error correction can execute by any member, and these activities can also be carried out in parallel. A healthy competition exists between participants. Community members who see the benefits of cooperation can reach synergies, while members who do not agree a selected direction can go their own way and create a so-called branch of the software. In recent years it has turned out that this development methodology leads to high quality Software that can be developed very fast.
Inherent to open source Software is the fact that no marketing and sales organizations exist for developed software. Formal patch planning for error correction, and formal release planning for new functionality, is incompatible with the way open source community’s work, and it is also not always clear on which computer architecture the Software will run. This can be a barrier for the use of open source products by companies and other organizations, because they are used to the professional, sometimes even obtrusive sales and marketing organizations of proprietary Software applications.
In times of Software monopolies the transparency of open source is attractive for our society. Many opinion leaders have studied the opportunities of open source Software and have determined their position. As an example: most political parties in the Netherlands advocate the use of open source as an alternative for proprietary software. The political parties expect lower costs when open source software is used; for some parties, a sentiment against large multinational companies also plays a role. According to some parties, open source Software could be a valid alternative for companies like Microsoft, that are experienced as monopolists in the market, and that can enforce prices and version management by keeping their source code confidential [VOSN, 2007a].
Various Dutch ministries carry out experiments to experience the pros and cons of open source software in the Netherlands. The Ministry of Economic Affairs researched the use of open source Software not
only as a cost saving opportunity, but also as a means to stimulate the innovation the Ministry deems desirable. Several Dutch ministries cooperated in a project that aimed to enhance the quality as well as the costs of common governmental processes by using open source Software [VOSN, 2007b].
The application of open source in practice progresses very slowly. In 2005 the Municipality of Amsterdam carried out a pilot project with open source solutions, where migration and maintenance services were also considered. The evaluation of the pilot showed that open source was not yet a valid alternative for proprietary Software [Politiek-digitaal.nl, 2005]. In 2007, the municipality again budgeted €300 000 for a pilot project [Lechkar, 2006]. Two municipal organizations experimented with voice automation using open source software. One of the organizations, the Zeeburg district, is known for its innovative spirit.
In this district, open source Software was installed on twenty-five computers, and after a few teething problems the experience was largely positive [Plekker, 2008]. In cooperation with nine other large municipalities, Amsterdam signed a manifesto to stimulate the application of open source Software by governmental organizations.
Commercial organizations are also using open source Software more and more. he Dutch Rabobank reported on three pilot projects that were suggested in 2001 during an internal seminar of IT employees. The three projects were: the test of a new desk top based on OpenOffice, the use of open source software for a website, and the use of an open source tool for directory services, an essential element of the Rabobank IT infrastructure. The open source Software had to meet the same maturity requirements as
its proprietary alternatives. In Table 10.1 an overview is presented of these requirements.
After their completion, the three pilot projects were evaluated. The most important positive aspect of the open source Software was the reduced dependence on the supplier, especially with respect to version management. The most important negative aspect was the absence of an external commercial sales and maintenance organization; this had to be organized internally [Kuipers, 2004].
The Rabobank is not the only company that carries out experiments with open source software. Philips, the electronics manufacturer, has already applied open source drivers for all sorts of consumer electronics equipment. For this company, the ownership of the source code is the largest obstacle. Many different open source license schemas exist, and Philips has a specialized group of legal advisers who determine whether or not a specific piece of source code may be incorporated in Philips’s products [Genuchten, 2004].