Open Source Initiative logo

... one of the most important changes to take place in the world of software and computing in the past 20 years.

There's a great deal of information about what Open Source means (and what it doesn't) on the Internet. If you need an introduction, the Wikipedia article is a pretty good place to start.

For a more definitive answer, visit the Open Source Initiative (whose logo is shown here on the right) - this is the organisation which approves any Open Source licence, so you can be sure it really does mean Open Source Software.

As far as we're concerned, Open Source software means software which is:

  • openly published (although still subject to copyright)
  • freely available (both in the sense that it costs nothing to obtain, and can be used by anyone for any purpose)
  • modifiable by anyone with the time, inclination and expertise to do so (so an application can be adjusted to make it do what you want it to, and not just what the original author wanted it to)

From a commercial perspective, the two most important aspects about Open Source software are that:

  • It is free to obtain, use and distribute - you do not have to keep track of licence keys, or protect valuable installation media, or worry about the cost of adding an application to another 50 users' computers
  • It avoids vendor lock-in - Open Source software is nearly always based around Open Standards - which means you can take your data and work with it in any application which understands the openly-published standard

Open Source software is not completely free once you factor in the costs of evaluating, selecting, implementing and supporting it - however these are exactly the same costs as you would encounter with proprietary software, and once you bear in mind that nobody can force you to change to a different software licensing model, just because they decide that's how they want to make more money, Open Source provides a very big "comfort factor" when you compare it against closed, proprietary alternatives.