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Open source software is often grouped with terms such as “free software”, cross-platform applications (available in multiple operating systems), and community-driven programs. An example of a concept regarding this is: “free” as in “freedom of speech.”

But, what is open source software? What are the advantages? Although the benefits are vast, here are a few examples:

* They are freely available. Many alternatives exist in lieu commercial programs. Applications can be installed on many machines, without the trouble of tracking or monitoring program licenses.

* It’s a community effort. Applications are developed with the sole purpose of creating a high-quality product. With peer production, anybody with coding skills can contribute to the effort. This also means that the application is always a work-in-progress.

* Technical support. Because open source software is a community effort, if a user has questions, they can post on the software’s message boards regarding questions or technical issues. If the issue is new and unable to be resolved, the user can create a ticket for the developer.

* Bug fixes. Most programs have a website that includes a ticketing system. If a user finds an error or a bug, the user can create a ticket on the application’s website. This allows the developers to be aware of the situation and will give them the ability to work on a fix. With a program with a large community, sometimes the bug can fixed within a few hours.

* Open source coding. As stated above, anybody with coding skills can contribute to the software. This also means that they can modify the program as they please.

* An educational experience. For those learning how-to code, looking at the source code can educate future programmers on application design.

*Less fluff. Unfortunately, many commercial programs contain unneccesary applications. Often these programs are unrelated to the program, or it may have the ability making it difficult for a user to uninstall.

Although the advantages are aplenty, disadvantages come hand-in-hand.

* Bugs and security. Because open source programs are—open source—there are those that exploit bugs, instead of reporting them.

* Technical support. With commercial programs, problems, or questions—answers are a phone call or a ticket away. Often times, there is a fee for such support inquiries. Although the open source community is large, with smaller programs, it can take some time to get answers or bug fixes.

* Stop development. Sometimes a programmer will simply lose interest in their application. Unless another developer takes over, the program will be ceased to be developed.

More information about Open Source software can be read at the Open Source Initiative.

Recommended websites for finding open source software:
* SourceForge http://www.sourceforge.net – a comprehensive open-source directory
* Open Source Alternativeshttp://www.osalt.com – a software directory – it does list some commercial software, but lists alternatives as well

Recommended programs:
* Open Officehttp://www.openoffice.org – an alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
* Ubuntu http://www.ubuntu.com – a user-friendly Linux (Debian) based operating system. For those that are worried about making the jump from Windows (or Mac) to Linux, this is a good place to start.
* GIMP http://www.gimp.org – a graphic editing program with functionalities similar to Photoshop.
* Audacity http://audacity.sourceforge.net – software for recording and editing audio. Some features include: multi-track recording, easy editing for splicing or adding effects, and the ability to import or export audio files in various formats.

And for the readers, what are your thoughts on open source software? Do you have a favorite program that you’d like to recommend?

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Author: Admin