What Open Source Thinking Can Do For You (And You, And You)

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Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in a hilariously titled blog post that his company would be removing all of its patents “in the spirit of the open source movement.” And it’s a movement indeed. More and more companies are making the switch to open source thinking, embracing a philosophy of quality and innovation through sharing.

So just what is open source, and what can it do for you and your business?

What is Open Source?

Ask five people what “open source” means and you’ll probably get five different answers. It’s a confusing term that gets thrown around a lot. So what does open source really mean?

The term “open source” originated in the context of computer software. It refers to open access to source code, which is the part of software that most users are never allowed to see. Access to source code allows users to modify a software, enhance it, reproduce it, and distribute it. And most open source software is free. This is different than proprietary or “closed” software that only allows its original authors to modify and copy it.

Examples of open source software: Linux, Mozilla Firefox, Android

Examples of proprietary software: Adobe Photoshop, iTunes, Skype

What Else Can Be Open Source?

Today, the term open source is often used to describe a way of thinking or doing business that is characterized by idea sharing and collaborating for the greater good.

According to OpenSource.com, “It means committing to playing an active role in improving the world, which is possible only when everyone has access to the way that world is designed. The world is full of ‘source code’—blueprints, recipes, rules—that guide and shape the way we think and act in it.”

What Can Open Source Do For Your Business?

For some people, open source sounds a bit… scary. If you’re on the user end, you might wonder about quality. How can something free and open be good and secure? And if you’re on the developer end, you might worry about what kind of changes will be made to your precious, precious code.  But fear not; there are plenty of good reasons to embrace open source. Here are just three:

1. Quality

In the 2014 Future of Open Source survey, 80% of responders cited quality as their reason for choosing to go open source. So why is the quality of open source software so good?

One reason is that the people seeking out and working on open source software are at the top of their game; according to ReadWrite, “The best developers demand to work on open source. Period.”

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This is because developers know that open source software not only allows them to problem solve (without waiting for software updates or tech support), it also allows them to innovate and improve.

Think about it like this: let’s say you have a recipe for lasagna — it’s decent. But then you give the recipe to your friend who went to culinary school and she decides that it would be all the better if you added eggplant and removed the Italian seasoning. Now your lasagna is amazing and Emeril Lugosi is knocking on your door like, “Could I try that? I hear it’s pretty good, and I have an idea for something else we could add…” That’s open source quality.

2. Security

A wide open door doesn’t exactly scream security, does it? But in the Future of Open Source survey, 72% of responders agreed that more eyes = more security.

Rafael Laguna, CEO and Co-Founder of Open-Xchange, puts it like this:

“Security means not having to believe, but knowing. Only products under open-source licensing can shed the light when back doors exist, dishonest data collection and/or data exploitation happens or if the proper algorithms for creating security are chosen.”

Basically, if you want your product to be safer and more reliable, build a bigger army to protect it. And open source lets you do that without having to manage your soldiers.

3. Progress and Innovation

Whether we’re talking mobile technology, Italian cooking, or electric vehicles, open source is good for progress and innovation. Elon Musk’s decision to release Tesla’s patents was largely based on his belief in the importance of sustainable transport and his desire to get more and better electric cars into the public’s hands faster.

“If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal,” wrote Musk.

The community of open source users is growing bigger every day as individuals and businesses discover the value in learning, improving, and creating together. If you want to keep up, it may be time to open up.

Ready to dig in?

Get started with contributing to open source code with our beginners guide or learn all about all about GitHub (a web-based hosting service for software development projects) in our Technically Speaking Series.

Take a deeper dive with  our web development immersive or use Dash to learn code on your own.

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