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About Open Source Software

What is open source?
Open Source software is public accessible, royalty free software, that is development through the collaborative community effort of  voluntary contributors.  The resulting software is available for public access and use.  Anyone can copy it, modify it, run it, make derivative works from it, redistribute it, and even sell it. These actions can all be done without incurring any licensing or royalty fees associated with the intellectual rights of the developed software.
Open Source is still licensed software
Open Source software is still licensed and in order to use open source software, you must adhere to the terms of the license. A key provision of the license is the requirement that if you redistribute the software you must pass on the same rights you receive. If you create new product based on open source, and distribute that new product, you must provide your customer with the source code and rights to use, modify, and freely redistribute it, without incurring royalty fees. This requirement applies to not only the original product, but any modifications you made to it.
The key feature of the open source license is the requirement that the software and derivative works remain free of any royalty or license fees.
Community Supported
Open source projects are typically managed by a non-profit organization with a core team and follow the same development cycle as commercial products. The non-profit organization forms the legal entity for licensing the intellectual property, and a core team of volunteers makes decisions on development priorities, architectural design, etc. based upon input from the community. The actual software development is then done by a large distributed base of software development volunteers, which in some cases can exceed the project team size of leading commercial products.  These same developers often represent product users and thus also help test the products.  The result is often highly functional, secure, stable platforms that often exceed the capabilities of alternative commercial products. There are periodic new versions and upgrades that provide enhanced features and the core team decides when the next release will occur. However, all of the interim work is readily accessible to the public.
Limitations of Open Source Products
Two limitations to open source software in comparison to paid commercial software are the lack of warranty and support. There is no software producer to hold accountable if the software fails to address your needs. You are simply relying on capabilities that have been proven by a community of other users. You also need a certain amount of technical knowledge to convert open source into a useable solution and you are on your own for any problems encountered. The project community only provides the source code and does not provide items like documentation, training, installation, support, etc. Therefore there is often a considerable amount of time investment needed to learn how to install, use, and maintain an open source application. Any software bugs need to be submitted to the community of volunteers for resolution and will then get resolved at their grace and pace. However, since you have the source code, you are free to resolve the problem on your own if you have the technical skills to do so. This is why RedHat has been able to build a $1 billion dollar business based on offering support services for the royalty free open source operating system Linux.
Open Source Examples
Open source software has become an important component in today’s web based business solutions and represents the dominant approach in many areas. The open source web server Apache has historically dominated the web server market (including large enterprises) over leading commercial products like IIS from Microsoft. Below is a list of some leading applications with links where more information about open source solutions can be found.  Many of these provide free alternatives to commercial fee based software packages.
Learn more about open source at OSI (open source initiative)
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