It may not always be obvious, but the open source movement has been on a steady upward march. Globally, open source applications are becoming a major factor in all industries from governments, healthcare and education to gaming and disaster relief. Today, open source presents significant opportunity for the development of local solutions, innovation and industry.
The term open source generally refers to any material, such as software programs or other digital content that is made freely available to the general public for use or modification from its original design. For example, anyone can use, modify or adapt the source code for the popular Android operating system to creating their own products or services. The open source movement is based on a very different philosophical approach compared to traditional intellectual property creation models where copyrights and patents prevent others from appropriating ideas without cost or penalty. Open source licenses specifically grants royalty-free, perpetual and non-exclusive usage rights to the general public.
Knowledge: The principal thing
While the open source vs proprietary IP debate will continue, there is no question that open source provides tremendous opportunity for organisations as well as end-users. At the most basic level, open source provides users the world over with significant building blocks for constructing complex information structures and services. The open source benefit is not simply an issue of costs, but of knowledge. The explicit exploration, modification and adoption of open source software can have very real and tangible benefits for developing capacity in the local technology sector. The principles of openness and collaboration that lie at the heart of the open source movement are of major relevance within a developing society context.
Open source software projects have, to an overwhelming degree, been the result of collaborative inputs of thousands of contributors including, for example programmers, designers and writers from across the planet. This approach allows nations which may only have a fraction of the resources of large developed and emerging economies to tap into a set of skills and experiences that go way beyond their local context and local pockets. For instance, open source applications such as Ubuntu, Ushahidi and OpenOffice can have been successfully used to advanced productivity in the public sector, in schools and even in the private sector. The movement provides a doorway for the development and customisation of local solutions for local needs. Properly leverages, open source approaches can be an important driver of innovation.
Beyond software: Open education
Recently, the open source movement has been evolving from its software-focused roots broader open data and open content initiatives. Already, massively open online courses (MOOCs) are becoming the most popular form of online education. The emerging leaders of this movement, including Web sites such as Udacity and Coursera, offer free courses in subjects such as computer science and statistics, taught by accredited lecturers. Another a new paradigm is beginning to emerge: open textbooks. This new development is threatening to disrupt a US$4.5 billion industry that has so far avoided the media upheavals experienced in music, movies and trade publications. Open-source textbooks are free for students to use and for professors to modify.
More companies are moving to development them, and more classrooms are adopting them. The underlying objective, politically and socially, is to lighten the burden for students who have been hit with tuition increases and rising text book costs. This movement aligns well with the rise in free online courses, and it is poised to revolutionise the way we view, and pay for, education. Businesses, educators, government institutions and innovators should be looking at the open source movement with fresh eyes. Seen in the right context, with the right support and incentives, the open source movement can offer a new world of possibility for building the knowledge economy.
Ten open source software projects you should know about
1. Android OS
Android is a Linux-based operating system for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. It is developed by the Open Handset Alliance, led by Google.
GnuCash is a free accounting software system designed for personal and small business use. It allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses, in addition to double-entry accounting.
3. Google Chrome
Google Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system designed by Google to work exclusively with web applications.
Magento Community Edition is the world’s fastest growing e-commerce platform. The Enterprise Edition, for which there is an associated cost, offers features like multi-store capability, store credits and gift cards, out-of-the-box.
MySQL is the world’s most used open source relational database management system that runs as a server providing multi-user access to a number of databases.
6. Open Office
A productivity software suite for creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases.
PDFCreator is a credible rival to Adobe Acrobat letting you create PDFs from practically any application.
Ubuntu is a free operating system for Linux that’s quick and easy to use. Recent figures suggest that around 50 per cent of Linux users have Ubuntu installed. With its focus on usability, Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice, Firefox Empathy, Pidgin, GIMP and other tools pre-installed.
Udacity, with a stated goal of democratising education, offers a range of certification options that are recognized by major technology companies.
An open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile devices.
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-focused not-for-profit delivering values-based technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops.
He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwoodingFollow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding