Web Words Explained: Open Source Software

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Web Words Explained: Open Source Software

I’ll let you in on a secret. Like many of you, I’m new to Drupal. Despite having a strong background in content management, Drupal is unexplored territory. I remember what it was like in the beginning as I learned to develop new sites. We all remember a point when we were baffled by basic applications like posting blogs, and terms like “CMS”, or “open source” seemed foreign.

I’m also confident that many of you are currently in that same boat. How can you learn to use Drupal when you don’t know the web development lingo? Well, I’ve done some research, exploring popular terms from the ground up in order to make this as easy and painless as possible.

People often describe Drupal as an “open source content management system”, so let’s break down those words into easy-to-chew bites:

What does open source mean?

Open source software is the opposite of proprietary software. Essentially, the term describes a culture of transparency, collaboration, and adaptability in programming. Open source derives its name from programs and software that freely offer the source code for you to edit. Modification of open source software is actually highly encouraged and allows a developer to create exactly what they want.

We can think of open source software like self-serve yogurt. We could potentially go to a restaurant and order a chef’s pre-arranged dessert off the menu, or we could build and adapt it ourselves, including every topping we want, the way we want it.

Open source software must:

  • Include the source code.
  • Allow anyone to edit the source code.
  • Be freely distributed and allow all modified versions to be redistributed.
  • Not prohibit or interfere with other software.

The advantages of using open source programming also outweigh the disadvantages. The few disadvantages include the absence of customer service, inconsistent software quality, and the inability to always meet corporate needs. However, users of open source software are apt to band together, forming message boards and help sites that are filled with solutions supplied by experienced users. A simple Google search can yield a world of assistance and support. Other benefits include flexibility, frequent updates, quick repairs, and low cost, community-based development.

Fun Fact:

Opencola is an open source soda. The ingredients are an open source recipe.

Even soda can be open source. OpenCola allows volunteers to redevelop the recipe which is comparable in taste to the closely guarded lists of ingredients held by many popular soft drink manufacturers.

In the end, the term “open source” can describe anything that maintains the propensity to evolve through community participation. A few commonly used examples of open source software you may already be familiar with include Mozilla Firefox, Linux, Android, Wordpress, and the software used to run Wikipedia.

Do you have any questions about open source software and development? Is there any web lingo flying in one ear and out the other?

In the next Web Words Explained, we'll answer the question: "Wait a minute…What are content management systems?"

Image attribution: The Graphic Design School

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