Open source movement

Open source movement

The open source movement is a broad-reaching movement of individuals who feel that software should be produced altruistically[citation needed]. Open source software is made available for anybody to use or modify, as its source code is made available. The software use is subject only to the stipulation that any enhancements or changes are just as freely available to the public. Open source software promotes learning and understanding through the dissemination of understanding.[citation needed] The main difference between open-source and traditional proprietary software is in user and property rights, the conditions of use imposed on the user by the software license, as opposed to differences in the programming code.[citation needed] With open source software, users are granted the right to both the program's functionality and methodology. With proprietary software programs, such as Microsoft Office, users only have the rights to functionality.[1]

Programmers who support the open source movement philosophy contribute to the open source community by voluntarily writing and exchanging programming code for software development.[2][dead link] The term “open source” requires that no one can discriminate against a group in not sharing the edited code or hinder others from editing their already edited work. This approach to software development allows anyone to obtain and modify open source code. These modifications are distributed back to the developers within the open source community of people who are working with the software. In this way, the identities of all individuals participating in code modification are disclosed and the transformation of the code is documented over time.[3] This method makes it difficult to establish ownership of a particular bit of code but is in keeping with the open source movement philosophy. These goals promote the production of “high quality programs” as well as “working cooperatively with other similarly minded people” to improve open source technologies.[2]


Brief History

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two different groups were establishing the roots of the current open source software movement. On the east coast, Richard Stallman, formerly of the MIT AI lab, created the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation.[4] The GNU was aimed to create a free operating system. The GNU General Public License (GPL) was one of the open source licenses that served as a prohibitory of control over software codes.[clarification needed] This specific license allowed users to not only modify, but also redistribute people’s own versions of the software. This not only allows, but also requires that anyone operating under the Linux GPL agree to the terms of the original kernel and makes the edit available to everyone.[citation needed]

On the US West coast, the Computer Science Research Group (CSRG) of the University of California at Berkeley was improving the Unix system, and developing many applications which quickly became "BSD Unix". These efforts were funded mainly by DARPA contracts[citation needed], and a dense network of Unix hackers around the world helped to debug, maintain and improve the system.[5] During 1991-1992, two very exciting events took place:

  • In California, Bill Jolitz completed the Net/2 distribution, until it was ready to run on i386-class machines. Net/2 was the result of the effort of the CSRG to make an version of BSD Unix free of AT&T-copyrighted code. He called his work 386BSD, and it quickly became appreciated within the BSD and Unix communities. It included not only a kernel, but also many utilities, making a complete operating system.[5]
  • In Finland, Linus Torvalds, a computer science student, unhappy with Tanenbaum's Minix[citation needed], implemented the first versions of the Linux kernel. Soon, many people were collaborating to make that kernel more and more usable, and added many utilities to make GNU/Linux a real operating system. The Linux kernel, and the GNU applications used on top of it, are covered by GPL.[5]

In 1993, both GNU/Linux and 386BSD were reasonably stable platforms. Since then, 386BSD has evolved into a family of BSD-based operating systems (NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD), while the Linux kernel is used in many GNU/Linux distributions such as Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, SUSE, Mandrake, and many more.[5] Stallman coined the term “copyleft” for these types of licenses. It is the copyright of the GPL and rather than taking away freedom, gives the freedom to change the software.

The Open Source Initiative, or OSI, created in 1998, essentially came up with the term "open source"[citation needed] to change the perception of existing free software. “OSI was formed as an educational, advocacy, and stewardship organization at a cusp moment in the history of that culture.” [6] How the term "open source" is understood today is in part due to the creation of OSI.[citation needed] The term "open-source" was formulated by a number of open-source users[who?] and chosen over the already existing terms of freeware and shareware. The term was decided upon for a good reason, in that "the [advantage] of using the term open source [is] that the business world usually tries to keep free technologies from being installed." [7][citation needed]


Any technological advance needs a reason to be introduced into society. In the beginning, a difference between hardware and software did not exist. The user and programmer of a computer were one and the same. When the first commercial electronic computer was introduced by IBM in 1952, the machine was hard to maintain and expensive. Putting the price of the machine aside it was the software that caused the problem when owning one of these computers. Then in 1952, a collaboration of all the owners of the computer got together and created a set of tools. The collaboration of people were in a group called PACT (The Project for the Advancement of Coding techniques). After passing this hurdle, in 1956, the Eisenhower administration decided to put restrictions on the types of sales AT&T could make. This did not stop the inventors from developing new ideas of how to bring the computer to the mass population. The next step was making the computer more affordable which slowly developed through different companies. Then they had to develop a software which would host multiple users. MIT computation center developed one of the first systems, CTSS (Compatible Time-Sharing System). This lay the foundation for many more systems to come and what we now call the Open Source Movement.[8]

The Open Source Movement is branched from the free software movement which began in the late 80s with the launching of the GNU/Linux project by Richard Stallman.[3] Stallman is regarded within the open source community as sharing a key role in the conceptualization of freely shared source code for software development.[3] The term “free software” in the free software movement is meant to imply freedom of software exchange and modification. The term does not refer to any monetary freedom.[3] Both the free software movement and the open source movement share this view of free exchange of programming code, and this is often why both of the movements are sometimes referenced in literature as part of the FOSS or “Free and Open Software” or FLOSS “Free/Libre Open Source” communities.

These movements share fundamental differences in the view on open software. The main, factionalizing difference between the groups is the relationship between open source and propriety software. Often makers of proprietary software, such as Microsoft, may make efforts to support open source software to remain competitive.[9] Members of the open source community are willing to coexist with the makers of propriety software[3] and feel that the issue of whether software is open source is a matter of practicality.[3]

In contrast, members of the free software community maintain the vision that all software is a part of freedom of speech[3] and that proprietary software is unethical and unjust.[3] The free software movement openly champions this belief through talks that denounce propriety software. As a whole the community refuses to support propriety software. It also is suggested there are external motivations exist for these developers. One motivation is when a programmer fixes a bug or makes a program it benefits others in an open source environment. Another motivation is that a programmer can work on multiple projects at the same time doing something they enjoy. Also, programming in the open source world can lead to commercial job offers or entrance into the venture capital community. These are just a few reasons why open source programmers continue to create and advance.[10]

While cognizant of the fact that both it and the open source movement share similarities in practical recommendations regarding open source, the free software movement fervently continues to distinguish themselves from the open source movement entirely.[3] The free software movement maintains that it has fundamentally different attitudes towards the relationship between open source and propriety software. The free software community does not view the open source community as their target grievance, however. Their target grievance is propriety software itself.[3]

Legal Issues

The Open Source Movement has faced a number of legal challenges. Companies that manage open source products have some difficulty securing their trademarks. For example, the scope of “implied license” conjecture remains unclear and can compromise an enterprise’s ability to patent productions made with open source software. Another example is the case of companies offering add-ons for purchase; licensees who make additions to the open-source code that are similar to those for purchase may have immunity from patent suits.

In the court case "Jacobsen v Katzer", the plaintiff sued the defendant for failing to put the required attribution notices in his modified version of the software, thereby violating license. The defendant claimed Artistic License in not adhering to the conditions of the software’s use, but the wording of the attribution notice decided that this was not the case. "Jacobsen v Katzer" established open source software’s equality to for-profit software in the eyes of the law.

In a court case accusing Microsoft of being a monopoly, Linux and open source software was introduced in court to prove that Microsoft had valid competitors and was grouped in with Apple.

There are resources available for those involved open source projects in need of legal advice. The Software Freedom Legal Center features a primer on open source legal issues. International Free and Open Source Software Law Review offers peer-reviewed information for lawyers on free software issues.


In February 1998 the open source movement was adopted, formalized, and spearheaded by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), an organization formed to market software “as something more amenable to commercial business use”[3] The OSI owns the trademark “Open Source[2] The main tool they adopted for this was the Open Source Definition[11]

Overall, the software developments that have come out of the open source movement have not been unique to the computer science field, but they have been successful in developing alternatives to propriety software. Members of the open source community improve upon code and write programs that can rival much of the propriety software that is already available.[3]

Examples of software that have come out of the Open Source Movement


  • The collaborative nature of the open source community creates software that can offer customizability and, as a result, promotes the adoption of its products.[16]
  • The open source community promotes the creation of software that is not proprietary, thus resulting in lower costs.[16]
  • The development of open source software within the community is motivated by the individual who has expressed interest in the code and software creation. This differs from proprietary software that is often motivated via monetary means.[16]
  • An open source tool puts the system administrator in control of the level of risk assumed in deploying the tool.[17]
  • Open source provides a flexibility not available in closed products. The hope is that If you make improvements to an open tool you'll offer them back to the original developer and community at large. The give-and-take of the gift economy benefits everyone.[17]

Members of the Open Source Movement stress the importance of differentiating between “open source” software and “free software”. Although the two issues are related, they are quite different. Although the groups agree on the overall practical recommendations, they disagree on the basic principles. A major advantage to open source code is the ability for a variety of different people to edit and fix problems and errors that have occurred. Naturally because there are more people who can edit the material there are more people who can help make the information more credible and reliable. The open source mission statement promises better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. They stress the importance of maintaining the Open Source Definition. This trademark creates a trusted group that connects all users and developers together.[18] To fully understand the Open Source Definition, one must understand certain terms: Free redistribution means that there is no restriction on any party to sell or give away the software to third parties. Source Code means that the program must efficiently publicize the means of obtaining the source code. Derived works means that the program must allow certain works to be distributed under the same terms. There must be a promise of no discriminating against any certain persons or groups. All of these factors allow for the open source movement to become available to all and easy to access, which is there overall mission. The latest updates from the Open Source Institution took place on January 19, 2011: The OSI collaborated with the Free Software Foundation and together they updated a version of the request that they have sent to the US Department of Justice.[19]


Despite a lack of financial incentive to program software, writing software can be seen as forms of personal satisfaction for programmers.

  • First, programmers can have a sense of "intellectual gratification” as a result of writing software. This intellectual gratification is similar to the feeling of a scientific discovery. Because the movement itself originates in the academic world, it is only natural that some motivation behind it reflects scientific research. After sharing software with other programmers, some may also receive feedback to improve their work, and also rain recognition and prestige[20].
  • A second form of personal satisfaction comes from the act of writing software as an equivalent to creative self expression -- it is almost as equivalent as creating a work of art[20].
  • A third motivational factor can be the rediscovery of creativity, which has been lost through the mass production of commercial software products[20].

Economic motivations behind the Open Source Movement include:

  • Financial Rewards as a result of writing software[21]
  • Little to no cost for the opportunity to write or adapt software[21]
  • Gaining recognition from others, especially programmers, as a result of writing software[21]
  • Possible future career endeavors as a result of recognition of written software[21]

Although a majority of OSS is volunteer-based, there are many factors that cause software programmers to participate in the Open Software Movement. A programmer can be motivated by personal goals, such as creating a tool better suited for his or herself. They can also be influenced by community obligation, or a need for a software. Although the Open Source Movement is heavily publicized as a completely volunteer experience, there are firms that offer the possibility of payment in exchange for software writing. Long-term motivational factors can include career opportunities, and practice or improvement of programming skills. Some programmers may also provide potential employers examples of their programming abilities through the contribution of coding[22].


  • The structure of the open source community requires that individuals have programming expertise in order to engage in open code modification and exchange. Individuals interested in supporting the open source movement may lack this skill set, but there are many other ways of contributing.[3]
  • Programmers and developers comprise a large percentage of the open source community and sought-out technical support and/or documentation may not be useful or clear to open source software lay-users.[16]
  • The structure of the open source community is one which involves contributions of multiple developers and programmers; software produced in this fashion may lack standardization and be incompatible with various computer applications and capabilities.[16]
  • Production can be very limited. Programmers that create open source software often can turn their attention elsewhere very quickly. This opens the door for many bug filled programs and applications out there. Because no one is being paid to create it, many projects do not get finished.[23]
  • The quality of the software in an open source industry is decided by the user. A user has to learn the skills of the software on their own and then make the determination.[24]
  • Librarians may not be equipped to take on this new responsibility of technologies.[25]
  • There is no guarantee that development will happen. It is unknown if an open source project will become usable, especially when a project is started without significant support from one or more organizations. Even if the project does reach a usable stage, it is possible the project can die if there is not enough funding or interest toward it.
  • It is sometimes difficult to know that a project exists, and its current status. Especially for open source projects without significant support, there is not much advertising involved in open source software.
  • Not much support exists for open source software. Qualified support essentially does not exist. The available support for open source software is predominantly self-motivated discussions found on the Internet, and since the software is constantly being changed, no manuals or instructions are made.
  • No guarantee of updates. Although open source software is available to anyone for free, regular updates are not assured since users do not pay for its use.
  • Beyond the obvious detriments towards the theoretical success of open source software, there are several factors that contribute to the lack of long-term success in open source projects. One of the most obvious drawback is that without pay or royalty licensing, there is little financial incentive for a programmer to become involved with a project in the first place, or to continue development and support once the initial product is released. This leads to innumerable examples of well-anticipated software being forever condemned to beta versions and unsupported early model products. With donations as the only source of income for a truly open source (and GPL licensed) project, there is almost no certainty in the future of the project simply because of developer abandonment, making it a poor choice for any sort of application in which future versions, support and a long-term plan would be essential, as is the case for most business software.[26]

Evidence of Open Source Adoption

Libraries are using open source software to develop information as well as library services. The purpose of open source is to provide a software that is cheaper, reliable and has better quality. The one feature that makes this software so sought after is that it is free. Libraries in particular benefit from this movement because of the resources it provides. They also promote the same ideas of learning and understanding new information through the resources of other people. Open source allows a sense of community. It is an invitation for anyone to provide information about various topics. The open source tools even allow libraries to create web-based catalogs. According to the IT source there are various library programs that benefit from this. [25]

The following are events and applications that have been developed via the open source community as and echo the ideologies of the open source movement.[3]

OpenCourseWare Consortium — an organization composed of various colleges that support open source and share some of their material online. This organization, headed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was established to aid in the exchange of open source educational materials.[3]

Wikipedia — user-generated online encyclopedia with sister projects in academic areas, such as Wikiversity — a community dedicated to the creation and exchange of learning materials[3]

Project Gutenberg — prior to the existence of Google Scholar Beta, this was the first supplier of electronic books and the very first free library project[3]

Google — this search engine has led the way in transformation of Web-based applications, such as books, scholarly journals, that are based primarily on open source software.[3] Google continues to make applications based on open software. Recently, in November 2009, Google announced that it would be “enabling people everywhere to find, and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state districts, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar”[9]

Government agencies and infrastructure software — Government Agencies are utilizing open source infrastructure software, like the Linux operating system and the Apache Web-server into software, to manage information.[9] In 2005, a new government lobby was launched under the name National Center for Open Source Policy and Research (NCOSPR) “a non-profit organization promoting the use of open source software solutions within government IT enterprises." [27]

Synthetic Biology- Synthetic Biology is considered the feasibility of the open source movement. This new technology is important and exciting because it promises to enable cheap, lifesaving new drugs as well as helping to yield biofuels that may help to solve our energy problem. Although synthetic biology has not yet come out of its "lab" stage, it has great potential to become industrialized in the near future. In order to industrialize open source science, there are some scientists who are trying to build their own brand of it.[28]

Open Source Movement in the Military- Open source movement has potential to help in the military. The open source software allows anyone to make changes that will improve it. This is a form of invitation for people to put their minds together to grow a software in a cost efficient manner. The reason the military is so interested is because it is possible that this software can increase speed and flexibility. Although there are security setbacks to this idea due to the fact that anyone has access to change the software, the advantages can outweigh the disadvantages. The fact that the open- source programs can be modified quickly is crucial. A support group was formed to test these theories. It was called The Military Open Source Software Working Group, was organized in 2009 and held over 120 military members. Their purpose was to bring together software developers and contractors from the military to discover new ideas for reuse and collaboration. Overall, open-source software in the military is an intriguing idea that has potential drawbacks but they are not enough to offset the advantages.[29]

Open Source in Education- Colleges and organizations use software predominantly online to educate their students. Open source technology is being adopted by many institutions because it can save these institutions from paying companies to provide them with these administrative software systems. One of the first major colleges to adopt an open source system was Colorado State University in 2009 with many others following after that. Colorado State Universities system was produced by the Kuali Foundation who has become a major player in open source administrative systems. The Kuali Foundation defines itself as a group of organizations that aims to "build and sustain open source software for higher education, by higher education." There are many other examples of open source instruments being used in education other than the Kuali Foundation as well.[30]

Ideologically Related Movements

The Open access movement is a movement that is similar in ideology to the open source movement. Members of this movement maintain that academic material should be readily available to provide help with “future research, assist in teaching and aid in academic purposes.” The Open access movement aims to eliminate subscription fees and licensing restrictions of academic materials[9]

The Free Culture Movement is a movement that seeks to achieve a culture in that engages in collective freedom via freedom of expression, free public access to knowledge and information, full demonstration of creativity and innovation in various arenas and promotion of citizen liberties.[31][citation needed]

Creative Commons is an organization that “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.” It encourages the use of protected properties online for research, education, and creative purposes in pursuit of a universal access. Creative Commons provides an infrastructure through a set of copyright licenses and tools that creates a better balance within the realm of “all rights reserved” properties. [32] The Creative Commons license offers a slightly more lenient alternative to “all rights reserved” copyrights for those who do not wish to exclude the use of their material. [33]


  1. ^ Bradley, D.A. (2005). The divergent anarcho-utopian discourses of the open source software movement. Canadian Journal of Communication, 30, 585-611.
  2. ^ a b c d Wyllys, R.E. (2000). Overview of the Open-Source Movement. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School of Library & Information Science:
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Warger, T. (2002). The Open Source Movement. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from Education Resources Information Center:
  4. ^ Richard Stallman. The GNU Project. In Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark Stone, editors, Open Sources. Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly & Associates, 1999
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  8. ^ Weber, Steven. The Success of Open Source. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 2004. Print pg.20-28. This whole paragraph is referenced to Steven Weber
  9. ^ a b c d Taft, D. K. (2009, November 3). Microsoft Recommits to $100k Apache Contribution at ApacheCon. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from eWeek:
  10. ^ Lerner, John and Tirole, Jean. "The simple Economics of Open Source". National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, MA. March 2000: [1]
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  12. ^ a b Unknown. (2007). How the Open Source Movement has Changed Education: 10 Success stories. Online Education Database. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Langley, N. (2007). Apache is the big chief in the world of web servers. Computer Weekly, 34. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.
  14. ^ a b c d e Metcalfe, R. (200p, October 13). Examples of Open Source Software. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from OSS Watch:
  15. ^ The PHP Group. (2009, November 20). What is PHP? Retrieved November 22, 2009, from PHP:
  16. ^ a b c d e Webb, M. (2001, July 18). Going With Open Source Software. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from techsoup:
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  18. ^ Poynder, R. (n.d.). IT Feature: The Open Source Movement. Information Today, Inc.. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from
  19. ^ Wyllys, R. (n.d.). Overview of the Open-Source Movement. UT School of Information - Home Page. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from
  20. ^ a b c Bonaccorsi, Andrea; Cristina Rossi (9). "Why Open Source software can suceed". Open Source Software Development 32 (7): 1243–1258. Retrieved 20 October 2011. 
  21. ^ a b c d Bonaccorsi, Andrea; Cristina Rossi (2006). "Comparing motivations of individual programmers and firms to take part in the Open Source movement. From community to business". Knowledge, Technology, & Policy 18 (4): 40–64. doi:10.1007/s12130-006-1003-9. Retrieved 20 October 2011. 
  22. ^ Lakhani, Karim R.; Robert G. Wolf (September 2003). "Why Hackers Do What They Do: Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software Projects". MIT Sloan Working Paper. 
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  24. ^ Golden, Bernard. Succeeding with Open Source. Pearson Education. 2005
  25. ^ a b Poynder, Richard. (2001). The Open Source Movement. Information Today, volume 8, (issue 9). Retrieved from
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  28. ^ Wilson Center.(2009). Synthetic Biology: Feasibility of the Open Source Movement. Wislson On Demand Center. Retrieved from
  29. ^ Toon, John. (2009). Open Source Movement May Accelerate Military Software Development. Georgia Tech Research Institute. Retrieved from
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  31. ^ Students For Free Culture. (2009). Main Page. Retrieved November 22, 2009, from free
  32. ^ "Creative Commons Organization". Creative Commons. Retrieved 10/20/2011. 
  33. ^ "How to find Creative Commons images on Flickr". New Media Rights. Retrieved 10/20/2011. 

Further reading

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