What is "Open Source" and Why Do We Love It?

Posted by Paul on June 20, 2011

There's a lot of interest in open source these days, and not just from the software developer community. Many average PC users would be able to tell you that the popular Firefox browser was "open source"... whatever that means?

To understand what open source is, you just need to know that software is usually written in a human readable format and then "compiled" in to machine code that only computers can understand.

When you buy most commercial software you'll find that you only receive the machine code that runs on your computer and not the source code which it was originally written in. So far so good, and this is fine for most users.

But when software is open source, this code is freely available to everyone, and often software developers from all over the world improve and contribute to this code over the Internet. Their collaborative work gets put back in to the project and the software continues to improve. No company would ever have access to so many developers, who often give their time and expertise for free, perhaps for fun, perhaps also to improve their CVs.

The end result? Excellent software, often better than its commercial counterpart (Firefox vs. Internet Explorer being one example) and usually a price tag of zero.

This is why we use open source software wherever possible, from Firefox and Thunderbird on the desktop to Linux, PHP and concrete5 on our servers. This keeps our costs down and keeps our prices low but quality high - we've worked with many content management systems with licencing fees in the tens of thousands of pounds that are slower, less capable and less supported than the free and open source concrete5.

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