Speaking Notes from a Tech Talks Presentation by Kurt Nordstrom, October 25, 2006



What is Open Source?

  • Commercial Licenses
    • Microsoft Office
  • Shareware
  • Freeware
    • WinAmp
  • Public Domain

Issues with Closed Source Software

  • Often a licensing fee involved
  • Dependence on vendor to make changes/modifications
  • License can be restrictive (e.g. only 3 computers at a time per lab)
  • Risk of abandonment

The Need for a License

  • Code is protected by copyright, by default
  • Community development
  • Access to the source
  • Permit redistribution
  • Permit derivative works

Open Source Licenses

BSD(ish) License

  • Originated with the Berkeley Software Distribution OS at University of California, Berkeley
  • Very permissive license
  • Requires only attribution to authors
  • Allows proprietary use and relicensing
  • Examples of code released under BSD-style licenses
    • Apache 
    • FreeBSD/NetBSD/OpenBSD
  • Commercial derivatives of BSD-licensed code
    • Mac OS X
    • Early Microsoft Windows IP stack
  • Vulnerable to "Embrace and Extend?"

GNU Public License (GPL)

  • Created by Richard Stallman and the GNU Software Foundation
    • Picture of RMS 
  • "Copyleft"
    • Using Copyright to enforce accessibility
  • Strong Philosophical Underpinning. (Free Speech vs Free Beer)
  • Restrictive license
  • Requires derivative works to retain GPL

    • Examples of GPL'd projects
      • Linux kernel
      • GNU Compiler Collection (GCC)
    • GPL Difficulties
      • Not always compatible with other Open Source Licenses
      • Negative stigma in some circles ("viral?")
        • "FUD" from commercial software vendors

Open Source Software Under Other Licenses

What does Open Source mean for the Non Developer?

Freedom to use and install Open Source Software

  • No licensing fees or restrictions to deal with
  • No restrictions on usage or sharing

Burden of Responsibility Shifted to User

  • There is no automatic commercial support for Open Source products
    • Free as in "Kitten" (Hattip to Garrett)
    • Some organizations sell commercial-level support for open source tools
  • The creators of open source software do not provide any guarantees or legal protection
    • What you do with the software is your business
    • No warranties (i.e. McAffee or Norton)

Final Thoughts

  • Open Source licenses provide an excellent way for useful software to be developed by communities and made freely available.
  • Open Source software frees users from the concerns of continuing licenses or upgrade cycles.  Users may, however, still wish to purchase commercial support for open source products from 3rd party vendors.
  • Open Source software, just like commercial software, varies widely in quality.  It is the duty of the user or administrator to evaluate software quality.
  • It is probably best not to use "good" or "bad" when describing open or closed source software models.  Both have become essential aspects of the "digital landscape."

Useful Links

The Cathedral and the Bazaar Eric S. Raymond's original article, highlighting the distinctives of the open source development process.

The OSI (Open Source Initiative) Homepage (Lists most of the major open source licenses)

The GNU Public License

The BSD License

An article contrasting the GPL and BSD licenses and their effect on software development

About the Author:  Programmer Kurt Nordstrom resolves technical issues for the Portal to Texas History and the UNT Libraries' Digital Collections.