What is Open Source?


Open source is a programming philosophy whereby all aspects of a program are open for review. The term usually refers to the source code of the program, but can also refer to files created by the program, which would be readable in other applications. Many Linux distributions contain exclusively open source software. The opposite of open source software is proprietary software, whereby the source code is available only to the developer of the software and to those who successfully hack it.

The availability of the source code is seen as a security advantage to many, and as a security liability to others. Those who oppose open source software claim that hackers can easily identify weaknesses in software by examining the source code. Those in favor of open source software note that there are many more programmers that benefit from identifying and fixing potential weaknesses than those who benefit from exploiting them. Therefore, potential security holes are repaired before hackers can exploit them. In the real world, open source software such as Linux and Firefox have an exploit-to-patch time of under 12 hours on average, with an average exploit-to-patch time of 23 days for proprietary products such as Windows and Internet Explorer. In fact, the Linux vs. Windows and Firefox vs. Internet Explorer debates are seen as the two main battlefields of open source vs. proprietary software. The main object of these debates is security.

Another advantage of paid, proprietary software is the support contract that usually accompanies it. Those who purchase Microsoft Windows, for instance, are provided with free installation help by telephone, and can purchase additional support contracts. Linux, on the other hand, is usually downloaded free of charge, and those who provide the download are under no obligation to provide installation support for it. However, most Linux distributions have large community-based support via mailing lists and online forums, offering help not only in the installation of the product, but also in other areas as well. Others vendors, such as Red Hat, offer paid versions of their software that include support contracts similar to Microsoft's extended support.

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