What is Open Source Software?

What is open source software?

Open source software is software with source code that’s available to view, modify, and/or distribute based on the terms of its licensure- hence the term "open source". This type of software emphasizes transparency and accessibility for developers, and has led to an industry wide movement built on collaboration and community-driven software development. Open source software is used all over the world and powers over half of all websites on the internet. 

What are some examples of open source software?

 While there are many examples of open source software, some notable ones include:

  • Linux Operating System: A very popular, open source operating system that powers Android.
  • Apache Web Server: The Apache HTTP Server is a widely used web server that plays a crucial role in serving websites and web applications across the internet.
  • Mozilla Firefox: An open source web browser known for its speed, privacy features, and customizable interface.
  • Apache OFBiz™: An open source framework for business applications, commonly used for things like custom ERP systems.

Graph with four examples of open source software

Why does open source exist?

In essence, open source exists for two reasons. First, it exists to support open collaboration within the software development community. Second, it exists as a response to proprietary software manufacturing and the closed nature of those products and offerings. 

Because open source software is grounded in the principles of collaboration, transparency, and community-driven development, it encourages the sharing of knowledge and resources, which empowers developers to collectively enhance software quality and security. This collaboration within a diverse community often leads to faster innovation and the creation of robust and reliable software.

Is open source the same as free software?

While the two are very similar, they each have their own distinct definitions that slightly set them apart.

Open source software is software that complies with The Open Source Initiative’s definition of open source, which includes ten governing criteria, while free software complies with the four freedoms outlined by The Free Software Foundation.

You could say one (free software) is based more in an ethical ideology, while the other (open source) is based more in a business-centered framework. Both have to do with the open and “free” nature of non-proprietary software, but the two have slightly different ways of approaching and defining it.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of open source software?

The advantages and disadvantages of open source software really come down to what your business actually needs, as well as what you have the resources to maintain. It will also depend on what kind of software you are looking for. For example, if you’re looking for an ERP system for your business, these would be the advantages of an open source system:

  • Community support: Many open source softwares, like OFBiz, have a vibrant community that provides support, documentation, and continuous improvement to the project. 
  • Flexibility and customization: The ability to customize your system is one of the biggest reasons people choose to go with an open source ERP, since it allows them to customize it to their unique business needs. 
  • Access to innovation: Related to flexibility and customization, open source in general creates an atmosphere of enhanced innovation due to its open nature, and this has created a real preference for open source solutions as a result.
  • Security: Robust and active open source communities provide an added security buffer since there are so many eyes and brains focused on the project. While a proprietary system is behind a pay and information wall, open source is not, which means vulnerabilities can be identified and addressed more quickly, enhancing overall security.
  • Transparency: Open source software is also more transparent than proprietary, which is vendor reliant and thus more vulnerable to skewed information. With open source, it can be easier to know what you’re getting.
  • Cost: Open source software doesn’t come with the same cost structure as proprietary software, where you pay a recurring license fee in exchange for access.

Graph with six descriptions of open source benefits

Does open source mean free?

While many open source software products are indeed free of charge, the terms "open source" and "free" do not necessarily equate. The "free" in open source primarily refers to the freedom to view, modify, and distribute the source code. While access to source code may be free, anything beyond that may not be. For example, it can cost money to use support services, add customization, or other professional services associated  with open source software. 

How do I choose between open source and proprietary software?

Choosing between open source and proprietary software depends on various factors, not the least of which being your specific needs. When choosing between the two, consider the following:

  • Your goals: First and foremost, what are you trying to achieve? This will determine the kind of software you need, and from there what the open and proprietary options are to choose from.
  • Your requirements: Make sure you understand your particular software requirements (for example, do you want customization?) and be sure to consider functionality, scalability, and compatibility with existing systems.
  • Technical expertise: Evaluate the technical skills within your team. This can help determine whether or not you look for an ongoing relationship with a service provider.
  • Support options: Assess the level of support offered for the different solutions you’re comparing.
  • Total cost of ownership: Consider long term costs associated with support, training, updates and potential customization for your system.


Open source software is a driving force in the tech world for collaboration, transparency, and innovation. From the Linux operating system to the Apache web server, open source offers an alternative to proprietary solutions that focuses on innovation, flexibility and transparency. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages, and carefully considering your needs, you’ll be able to assess whether or not an open source solution is right for your business.

Graph answering the question, "what is open source software?" in four points

DATE: Dec 26, 2023
AUTHOR: HotWax Systems
Open Source Software