The benefits of open source software

By Anthony Caruana

Many owners spend substantial amounts of money on software to run their business. However, there's a vibrant community of software developers who create applications and distribute free of charge. In many cases, they make the software available to other developers who can add their own enhancements.

The combination of commands that software developers write to create computer programs is called source code. When you open an application like a word processor, what you're actually doing is setting off a sequence of commands that can respond to your keyboard presses and mouse clicks to produce a document.

Some companies hold the source code securely so that no one else can use it without their permission. Such code is often referred to as proprietary. It's important to note that many creators of free applications don’t share their source code.

Other developers that distribute their programs for free also make the source code available. This allows other programmers to take the source code and add their own enhancements or use the code to create their own version of the program. This is the essence of open source software.

If you're on a budget, open source software is a great way to set up a work computer cheaply. The most popular open source operating system is Linux. There are many versions of Linux available. All started from a common ancestor with different teams of developers creating their own versions, so there are now some that are highly specialised for point-of-sale systems, media centres, digital signage systems and other applications.

There are also many office suites that include word processors, spreadsheets and presentation applications. The most well known is Open Office, but there are independently developed versions such as IBM's Lotus Symphony and LibreOffice. All of these are free.

Even expensive applications like Photoshop have open source equivalents. Gimp is an open source application that can open and edit images created in Photoshop.

Open source software is also a great option if there's a particular task you carry out occasionally. Rather than having to pay for an expensive application you might only use occasionally, an open source option might fit the bill.

Does you business use open source software? If you have, what have been your experiences?


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