Open-source: so much more than just software and freebies

Open-source: so much more than just software and freebies

Summary: Open-source is so much more than just Linux and free software. Learn more about open-source and how it positions itself to better people, businesses, and much more.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Typically, when you see or hear the words "open-source," what's the first thing that comes to mind? For many, "open-source" is synonymous with "free software," but in reality, it's so much more than that: it's a movement; a chance to improve lives; a chance for success; a total lifestyle change. In this article, I hope to shed some light on what open-source really is -- and more importantly -- why everyone should care about it, or at least be aware of it.

To start, how would you like to raise $10 million to fund production of a project that was birthed out of work freely provided by people who seek only to fuel imagination? Figuratively speaking, your success -- whatever that might be for you -- is their success, too. Well, just a couple of months ago, this very thing happened via Kickstarter to a small team of individuals seeking to create a watch that interfaces with iPhones. They sought $100,000 in funding for production, but instead, ended up raising a whopping $10,000,000:

pebble-kickstarter-project-10-million

Not a bad return on something based on freely-available technology, huh?

Massimo Banzi, co-founder of open-source micro-controller maker, Arduino, recently gave a presentation at TED regarding open-source technology and how they are helping to put it in the hands of people everywhere. Open-source hardware? Yes! For a number of you reading this, that should already put "open-source" outside of your current perception of it.

When you have the opportunity to do so, please watch Massimo's presentation below. In it, he discusses many of the amazing things that have been done with open-source hardware -- everything from the watch above; to RC quadcopters that could be cheaply constructed and used to deliver supplies to villages in Africa; to satellites that could be launched into space for students to do tests with, and far more:

With everything Massimo covered in his presentation, it's quite easy to see how open-source is beginning to shape an entirely new landscape filled with imaginative creations that serve as everything from toys to potential life-giving catalysts.

So, with that in mind, what might life be like for an individual trying to live a 100% open-source life? Is such a thing even possible? Interestingly, one man has stepped forward to accept this challenge and document everything along the way. For one whole year, New Zealand filmmaker and writer, Sam Muirhead, will use open-source means "for every aspect of life, from cutting videos to chopping onions." If you can't quite wrap your mind around that, here he is explaining it:

Last of note, please don't forget to watch Massimo's presentation if you have yet to. It really serves as the cornerstone of substance for this article. Open-source really does have the potential to greatly enrich all of our lives -- personally, in business, and otherwise. If you're interested in digging more into open-source as covered in this article, here are a few great resources for you to start with:

1: Arduino

2: Instructables

3: Make Magazine

What are your opinions of open-source products? Do you think a widely-open-source future is a legitimate possibility, or do you see money as always being an eventuality of well-build products, no matter their humble origins? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

 

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  • Open propaganda

    This is an interesting article, but parts of it sound too much like over-zealous preaching of the type cultivated in Google's loyal fan communities.

    For example, this extract amounts to excessive hype, and it's virtually meaningless:-

    "it's a movement; a chance to improve lives; a chance for success; a total lifestyle change"

    The success of "open" owes much to the fact that Google chose this as a stick with which to beat Microsoft, and thus became a champion of the cause. In reality, Google is unambiguously only "open" precisely as and when it serves their own corporate interests.
    Tim Acheson
    • Open propaganda - Short sighted

      I think all popular things have cheerleaders and overzealous, but to say this comment is virtually meaningless is a little short sighted IMO. Not sure what you mean by your comment, but here are some easy examples: So let's start with the Internet. You use it every day, it is comprised mostly of open source and open standards and it has definitely changed our lifestyles in its short existence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo! all have open source as underpinnings of their technology. Do you own stock or trade stock? NYSE runs on open source SW. Do you have an Apple product? The Apple OS began with BSD Unix. Android? Open source. Approximately 50% of the world's websites? Apache HTTPD web server. Over 25 million websites use PHP. Tivo? Linux underneath. Java or java script? Practically can't use the Internet without using one of them today.

      A chance to improve lives? How about the open source medical device initiative at he University of Wisconsin? What if we open sourced medical technologies? Do you think we could save lives if the collective community fond a fatal flaw and fixed it? Rather than a for-profit company figuring out how to put the best PR spin to protect their profits while more people died? What if we had open source MRI and these life-saving costly treatments were readily available to everyone? Do you think that maybe the healthcare community could benefit from lower cost options that could extend better care to everyone?

      It is a movement. Today I am writing this on a virtual desktop being accessed through a $35 Raspberry Pi board computer running a custom image for thin client computing developed by a person solely interested in furthering thin client computing in an amazingly cost effective manner. What began many years ago is now a part of your life in almost every facet. Sure it is not free, sure it requires a lot of work, sure it doesn't integrate easily with other proprietary systems, but it is here to stay and will only continue to grow. Much of the growth will be fueled by companies who take open source and incorporate it to improve their products and profits. Why Android? Because it saves a cellular manufacturer costly licensing fees. No brainer.

      Because Google chose this as a stick? Really.....
      educationtalk
      • What open source is and what open source isn't.

        First of all, open source has nothing to do with free. I use a third party component in some of my development, as part of the product that is licensed to me, they provide the source to me. That is open source, I still have to pay for the license. I used the components, and I can change and recompile that as I please, as long as I don't try to sell it as a third party tool. I can sell my software without releasing my source code. My code is not open source. Kind of like Apple, just because their OS was based on BSD, doesn't make Apple open source. Apple doesn't release the source code for their OSX...although they do release an open source OS, but it's not the same thing. Think of the this way:

        [Has some open source components in it] != [is open source].

        There is a place in this world for both of these. It's a business decision made by who ever owns the code. Either they release their code or they don't. The decision they make doesn't make them good or bad, it's their prerogative. Be careful, just because they do doesn't give you carte blanc...you could still end up in court fighting a patent dispute.
        bmonsterman
        • Open Source Initiative -- a Definition

          Open Source isn't just "gives me the source so that I can recompile." There are many additional requirements. What you described is more like Microsoft's "Shared Source" license. Among the ten requirements for OSS are rights to redistribution. In fact, it's actually listed at #1, _before_ access to the source is mentioned.
          http://opensource.org/osd.html/
          daengbo
      • Yes

        "Do you have an Apple product? The Apple OS began with BSD Unix. Android? Open source."

        XNU operating system is 100% open source and free software (license is accepted by OSI and FSF). Yes, Mach microkernel is open source, I/O Kit is open source, the BSD part of XNU operating system implements filesystem and networking and they are as well open source.

        Apple use same XNU operating system in OS X and iOS and most people don't even know that Apple has lots of open source software used in both systems from operating system to HTML engine.
        Fri13
      • Yes

        "Do you have an Apple product? The Apple OS began with BSD Unix. Android? Open source."

        XNU operating system is 100% open source and free software (license is accepted by OSI and FSF). Yes, Mach microkernel is open source, I/O Kit is open source, the BSD part of XNU operating system implements filesystem and networking and they are as well open source.

        Apple use same XNU operating system in OS X and iOS and most people don't even know that Apple has lots of open source software used in both systems from operating system to HTML engine.
        Fri13
      • Yes

        "Do you have an Apple product? The Apple OS began with BSD Unix. Android? Open source."

        XNU operating system is 100% open source and free software (license is accepted by OSI and FSF). Yes, Mach microkernel is open source, I/O Kit is open source, the BSD part of XNU operating system implements filesystem and networking and they are as well open source.

        Apple use same XNU operating system in OS X and iOS and most people don't even know that Apple has lots of open source software used in both systems from operating system to HTML engine.
        Fri13
    • Here we go.

      Go hate Google somewhere else. For your information Google != Open source.

      Perhaps you should read a few open source education, as the patented one you have sucks.
      Bozzer
    • Ya, there is more to EVERYTHING in the world than meets the eye. Not news.

      You know, I guess the open source fanatics think nobody knows anything at all about open source.

      But honestly, dont talk to me about open source, charities, and entire lifestyles and that pile of hoke.

      In the end, its all very nice and lovey dovey but it dosnt mean much of anything. Bill Gates and his wife now give more away personally in a year then what this guy is talking about open source does as a whole. Are we all about to circle around and sing kumbaya for the Gates foundation???

      And is an "open source life" possible? Who knows. Maybe...maybe not.

      The question is, who cares. The second question is; why should they.

      I'd rather be Bill Gates.
      Cayble
  • Selective examples

    Selective examples are a hallmark of all good propaganda rhetoric. This is an excellent case in point:

    "Well, just a couple of months ago, this very thing happened via Kickstarter"

    Kickstarter is an interesting case, but picking an example like this risks overlooking the vast ocean of failed attempts which of course we never hear much about.
    Tim Acheson
    • What about them?

      Do proprietary projects never fail? lol
      Natanael_L
  • Um, not really

    "but in reality, it's so much more than that: it's a movement; a chance to improve lives; a chance for success; a total lifestyle change."

    You sound like the guy on the corner trying to give free newspapers away while the world ignores you and buys a real paper from the vending machine or street vendor.
    NoAxToGrind
  • So, what's Microsoft and Apple ecosystems?

    Most likely just Gulags of software.
    Matsi66
  • Hey Stephen

    I've always respected your columns, but I have to agree this is a little too much like cheer-leading. I think we can all get behind the concepts of making a better place by cooperating, but the one area that I have always had a problem with Linux is the integration. As someone who has been using Linux since 1994, I have seen it come along nicely, but it still lacks the integration effort that paid software is expected to have. It's like I have to go back to the 90's way of thinking every time I get serious about the product. It's a shame really. So my question for you is: Can there be a cheer-leader that unites the Linux front? The various Nix's have always had forking problems that lead to these issues. What a paid ecosystem does is allow one vision, which in turn leads to better cohesion (read: integration). We can't stand on shoulders that are too busy playing in the dirt.
    happyharry_z
  • also synonymous with generosity...

    "Open-source: so much more than just software and freebies"

    True, is also synonymous with generosity and good practice in business


    And then threat to wild and monopolist ecosystems such Microsoft, hence attracting negative messages of people like Tim Acheson (people who make their living on the crumbs thrown / fallen from the table of companies like Microsoft).
    Marco nn
  • Open-source: so much more than just software and freebies

    No, open source is pretty much about software and freebies.

    "So, with that in mind, what might life be like for an individual trying to live a 100% open-source life? "
    It means he wants attention and is only in it for the money, not because open source is supposed to have some type of better quality of life.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Troll

      So you see no value in having complete instruction and information available for how to make and use everyday tools? You don't see how anybody could benefit from end users being able to sumbit fixes and patches themselves, decreasing the load on the developers and speeding up the time for getting things fixed? Do you prefer Flash and Java over HTML5? Would you like to see HTML and HTTP and TCP/IP closed? Do you not see how we benefit from companies like Google being able to submit a patch thay MASSIVELY boosts networking performance on computers with many CPU cores, being of use for more than just Google?
      Natanael_L
      • @Natanael_L

        Don't give Lovie Dovie any serious response. He's a fucking idiot and he knows it.
        CaviarBlack
  • Open source hardware? Not in the mainstream!

    Ask Intel if they'll ever open-source their technology and they'll laugh you right into bankrupcy.
    Joe_Raby
  • True comments . . . and false, too

    The reality of open source is that for the big, well known projects, it can be nice. For the smaller ones, not so much. I've tried using open source tools in my software development. It hasn't worked too well. The problem is simply that the small projects don't get enough support and so when you have problems, need new features, etc. there's not much support and the new features come very slowly, it at all.

    Now some people will say - without thinking much - it's open source, you can fix it yourself or add new features yourself. Sure, in a language I might not know in an environment where I'm quite busy with my other programming chores? No. It's more efficient to buy tools that are supported than it is for me to learn some new language, with the picky coding standards some of these communities require, test, debug, commit, etc.

    So to the open source community, I say "more power to you", but it's not some panacea like the author seems to think. Sometimes it can be great, but sometimes it's not so great at all.
    GTGeek88