Open Source Tools

To round out this year’s look at open source tools, I want to provide an overview that can serve as a primer to the Hangout we intend to host early in 2017.  Open source software is “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.”  Opensource.com goes on to provide a more expansive explanation of the purpose of open source software:

“Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.”

As I noted in previous posts, NARA published a report in 2015 entitled “Open Source Tools for Records Management.”  This report points to the generally free cost of open source software and the “very robust user and developer communities that are actively working to report bugs and improve the tools” as advantages of its use.  However, this report also acknowledges (1) care must be taken to guarantee adequate security when deploying open source software and (2) customization may be required — which will probably also necessitate time and IT know-how.

Open source software differs from closed source, or proprietary, software because its code is open to all to see and change.  Although open source software is often times provided free of charge, it is not the same as freeware, which may be closed source software.  Notable open source technologies include the Linux operating system and the Apache web server application.  The Linux OS is a good example of the practice where the software is open source but the support comes with a price — such as that provided by Red Hat.  Opensource.com lists a number of reasons why developers prefer open source software:

  • control over what the software does
  • training by being able to see the source code
  • greater security due to quicker updates to address vulnerabilities
  • stability even after the original creators discontinue their work on the software

In August 2016, Wired released an article entitled “Open Source Won.  So Now What?”  This article points to the first official federal source code policy, which requires government agencies to release at least 20% of any new code as open source software.  It also acknowledges that open source development can be challenging due to lack of funding and because it’s hard to break into the field, which is increasingly being dominated by big companies.

If you’re interested in open source software, stay tuned for more blog posts and our Hangout in 2017.

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