Anyone who spends any time on the Internet has probably heard of open source software. They see cute penguins and are clued in to the presence of a large online community that is committed to sharing and working together to improve the technological experience for all users. But what does it all really mean? What is the purpose and goal of the open source community? How do they expect all of this work to benefit the larger world outside of their own community of programmers and designers?
Simply put, the open source community is committed to making the design specs for a variety of things open and free to the public. This really works well in the software community. The code is put out there and can be taken, used, changed, improved, fixed and redistributed without the need to pay royalties to any of its designers. Software developers put their work out there. Other designers can change it–making it better by finding and fixing flaws or changing it to better suit their needs. Both of these benefit the end user. The first results in a better product for the final user. The program will run smoother and will work better as it achieves its end goal. In the second scenario, the end product will likely be cheaper since the early stages of the work were already completed.
Many of the most popular pieces of software were open source, showing that a capitalistic approach may not be the greatest one for a community as inherently open and free as the web. Of course, Linux is open source and tends to serve as the rallying point for the entire community. Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird are both well known examples. The same goes for Apache, Tomcat and Mediawiki, the software that Wikipedia’s massive site utilizes. (This is also why most wiki sites have a similar feel and layout.) These popular examples show the power of this community.