It is difficult to imagine the world without open source software (OSS). Linux runs everything from Web servers to supercomputers, and millions of websites are powered by Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal. “Open source” alludes to the fact that the programming code for a software package can be readily viewed and changed. If you want to know how Joomla works, just download the source code and take a peek.
Open source is also making headway in healthcare. Recently, several open source EHRs (see below) were certified for use in securing EHR incentive payments.
For software developers, OSS can be a little tricky. While OSS provides easy access to source code, some licenses place restrictions on the degree to which developers can protect the software they create using OSS code. Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) and General Public License (GPL) are the two main OSS licenses. BSD allows developers to incorporate OSS code into their work and still keep their source code contributions private. On the other hand, GPL requires that derivative works provide access to any new source code that a developer might add. Developers who wish to keep their work private should avoid using the GPL license.
Obviously, for my development efforts, I will be looking only at software that uses BSD licenses (or MIT, which is roughly equivalent) should I decide to use any OSS code in my projects. End users who use OSS “as is” need not worry about the license type.
For end users, there is little downside to using OSS—most software is pretty good, and of course, free. However, support can be a problem. Issues that arise when using OSS have to be addressed by using forums, books, or other resources. However, if you are willing to explore, there is a lot of good, free software readily available.
Below are a few interesting open source packages that are worth a look. If you know of others, please send links.
Content Management Systems
ImpressPages – An interesting CMS aimed at non-technical users.
AxCrypt – file encryption (Windows)