ByÂ Gautam S Kumar:
What is open source?
Most people who have even a teeny tiny bit of interest in technology are bound to have heard of this ‘magical’ term. Why do I call it magic? I call it magic because what it stands for and what it does is nothing short of the same. A software is termed open source when the software’s source code is available and every user is free to study, modify and even distribute their own version. Okay, so what does this mean for casual users? Ever had anything that you wanted to see in a software? Well now it does not get any easier to get your opinions heard. Upload it on any forum that has techies/code freaks and they can implement it for you. Since there are no licensing issues, anybody who wants to work on a software can do it. It is thus, essentially, the programming model of a utopian society. And since the whole system is so ‘open’, there are that many more minds that can work on something and make things happen. There are no limits on what can be achieved.
Does open source mean free?
Yes and No. This depends on what one means by free. Free as in free to modify and do whatever the hell one wants to do and not in ‘free beer’ free. However, most open source software is free in every sense of the word or comes at a very convenient price. Technically though, when one says open source is free it refers to the freedom open source stands for.
But I run windows, what do I do?
A common misconception is that Open Source means that it runs only on Linux or for some, a ‘strange high tech non windows platform.’ This is not true. Almost every single proprietary software you use has an open source alternative. In fact, there is a greater chance that your machine, whatever environment you are in (Environment as in the operating system, processor etc.) can run a software if it is open source than if it is proprietary. Do not fret Windows users, for you can run open source software just as easily.
Wouldn’t there be compatibility issues if I use these ‘alternative’ software?
This is another common misconception that is preventing users from making the switch. You know all your previous files and work that you saved while working on ‘Insert proprietary software here’, they can just as easily be accessed using alternative software. Most open source software support a variety of file types. What this means is that you do not have to worry about these alternatives not supporting your previous work. It is to be noted however that most proprietary software does not support its alternative counterparts’ file types.
Why Open Source?
Even after going through the above, some of you may still have this question of ‘why’? Open Source aims to give freedom back to the users. Merely using it would be a great way to support the movement. You know your shiny new laptops, which cost you quite a bit? What if I told you that a significant amount that contributes to the expense is from Windows that ‘comes’ with most laptops? The truth is that you are ‘forced’ to buy it. Although there are brands that offer you certain variants that come without windows and allow you to choose your desired operating system (There are operating systems like Ubuntu that do not cost a single buck and offer you all that windows can if not more, hence enabling you to save up on the above mentioned ‘significant amount‘) the number isn’t anywhere near the desirable figure. The same goes for all the software that comes bundled with your new laptop. None of it is free. Get enough people to use open source alternatives and the big brands will realize that they do not need to force consumers to buy the proprietary software. Now who wouldn’t want cheaper stuff?
What can I do to contribute to the movement? Where do I go?
The beauty of this movement is that all you have to do to support it to use the software! And you can start off by visiting www.osalt.com, a one stop shop for all your open source needs. The website offers you open source alternatives to every kind of software. Some common open source software are Libre Office, Gimp, Firefox, VLC player etc. (I’ll leave it to you to find out what they are alternatives for). So, what are you waiting for? Throw proprietary software out the window and start using open source and the mere act will contribute to making the world a much better place. A world where anybody can work on any software. A world where you can handpick each and every element and feature you want in your system. A world where users truly have freedom. One has to wonder, isn’t it funny that we do not live in such a world already?