Taking a look at open source

  • Apr. 8, 2011 7:00 p.m.

What is Open Source Software?

Millions of people around the world every day use software on their personal computers and digital appliances most of which is NOT open source. It is proprietary software. In other words it is owned by whomever created it and the creator reserves the right to change it, sell it, give it away or remove it from the market. But, for example, if you are using Photoshop and were to ask Adobe for a copy of the source code for Photoshop so that you could modify it for your own use or possibly give a modified version to other people, they would reply with a resounding “no way!”

Proprietary source code is copyrighted and consists of the commands which generate the “machine language code,” the zeros and ones, that a computer understands. It is possible to “reverse engineer” proprietary software to reveal the source code, but that is illegal. On the other hand, as the name suggests, the code for “open source” software is available to anyone with the knowledge and skill to modify it. That’s why, for example, there are so many versions of Linux all based on the original source code for Unix which has the reputation of being the most reliable and robust operating system in the world. Users can select a Linux version which has the features most compatible with their needs, and, because it is supported by a wide community of users and fixers, can feel confident that it will not unilaterally be declared obsolete for marketing reasons.

The next meeting of the Vernon PC Users’ Club is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre in the Cafeteria. Our April 12 meeting will feature guest speaker Jay Schappert on: What if Dr. Seuss Wrote Computer Manuals; The (Not so) Fine Print; You Installed It … Why?; Most Common Computer Error. Call Betty at 542-7024 or Olive at 542-8490 for more details.