Friday, August 05, 2005

Open Source – Is the Future Open?

Open Source continues to grow in scale and acceptance. It basically means that software should be a shared resource. Wikipedia defines Open Source as freely available source code and documentation that is available to anyone. It goes on to list ten points that software must meet to be called Open Source.

There are several flavors of Open Source. The first is public domain which means anyone can do anything with it. The second is BSD which requires the user to acknowledge the original developer. The third is General Public License which requires a user to redistribute the source code along with any modified binary code. Then there is Shared Source which means you can look at the code but you can’t change it or recompile it. This is considered a step backwards in the effort to move toward an Open Source world.

Open Source is well established in the server business but its growth has been slower in other areas because even though the software may be free, the implementation is certainly not. Open source software comes with bugs and spotty feature sets that require additional work to make it useful for a particular application. Open source purveyors plan to mitigate this risk by creating a rating system that grades a piece of code on factors such as quality, security, documentation and more. For more details on the rating systems, you can find it at this site.

In the world of virtual instrumentation, LabVIEW VIs is one example of Open Source program code. You can download VIs from a variety of areas. I think some of these VIs could benefit from a rating system like the one listed above.

The main arguments against Open Source revolve around ownership of source code and the benefits to the developer of the code. A new concept called creative commons makes code available but only under certain conditions and with limited rights. Examples include letting others use your source code but only if they give you credit for your material. Another example is letting someone use your code but ensures they make no money from it. A real-world example of creative commons licensing is the book “Democratizing Innovations” by Eric Von Hippel who coined the term “Lead User”. You can pay $20 for the book version, or you can download it free at this web site under a creative commons license. Which do you think will generate more readers?

For a full range of resources on Open Source, including licenses, check out this site.

If you are working with Open Source technologies, I would like to hear from you. Please email me at
Best regards,
Hall T. Martin


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Anonymous uttara said...


ur articles about open source and sensor networks are interesting...keep writing


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