Open Source Software


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The concept of open source isn't new; in fact, it can be traced back to the early 1900s when the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association was formed. It was clear that different individuals or companies holding patents for various innovations were holding back the automobile industry as a whole. The MVMA promoted the cross-licensing of patents between its members without exchange of money.

Since then there have been many instances of open software projects, most notably the development of the network protocols leading to ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet. ARPANET provided the platform for collaboration between various government and academic institutions which further made it possible to freely share software code. IBM was the first company to distribute source code for programs and operating systems through a user group called SHARE, which is still in existence today.

MySQL interface

The term open source was created in 1998 as a result of Netscape releasing the source code for its Navigator Web browser. Since that time there have been countless open source projects providing quality free software alternatives to expensive commercial operating systems and applications. Some of those projects include the Linux operating system, Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Apache, My SQL and hundreds of other useful programs written for Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems.

Chances are you are already familiar with, and probably using open source software in your personal or business life, but do you know the official definition?

OpenOffice.org screenshot

Opensource.org defines open source software as having: free redistribution, source code, derived works, integrity of the author's source code, no discrimination against persons or groups, no discrimination against fields of endeavor, distribution of license, license must not be specific to a product, license must not restrict other software and license must be technology-neutral.

Can I write my own programs?

Apache screenshot

Yes, while coding a large software project is out of the core competency of most station engineers, there are some great development tools that can make the job easier. This may be particularly useful if, for example, you are asked about writing an application for a smartphone. The tools are somewhat limited for the iPhone, although Apple has recently decided to open the iPhone app community to more developers. The Android operating system is open source and freely available to developers. In fact, Motorola will provide (free) an excellent and easy-to-use code development environment called MotoDev which makes developing apps for Droid phones easy.

Programming languages such as PHP and Java are also open source projects. These languages are extremely useful for everything from making interactive websites to controlling devices and pretty much any other application you can think of. There are also numerous code development tools (also open source) that can be found with a simple search on the Web.

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