Posted by: peterhact | June 11, 2010

Free. Open source. what does it actually mean?

Open source gets a mention nearly every day in the ICT industry. There are really cool programs out there that are open source, but what does that actually mean?

For one, open source allows any developer to access the code of the application and use it for their own purposes. There are no boundaries set that prevent another developer from changing the code to match their needs, they can change the application completely and create a new similar application, then add that to the open source community, for everyone to share and use.

Effectively, all of the applications created in open source are the property of the community, not one individual. Further to this, there are companies who run parallel development teams, one in open source, and a second team to create COTS software packages. (COTS, or Commercial Off The Shelf products may have a grounding in open source, but the code isn’t open, unless you specifically ask for access to it, and the manufacturer is prepared to give you access to it)

The other thing that open source does is negate the threat of hacking, theft and other forms of impact, like malware and spyware. Everyone can use open source software. There are no limits to the number of versions you can run, but the support levels are based on the identification and neutralising of bugs by the community, not by the payment for maintenance and support.

The only part that isn’t open source for business or private use is the data. Data is specific to the organisation or individual who created it. The storage of the data is now a new hot topic – if I store all of my data on an open source hosting solution, how secure is it? How secure is a cloud solution? What steps can be taken to prevent loss of data when there are issues with a cloud environment that is, essentially, free?

This is the realm of buyer beware. If you have a cloud hosted solution that is open source, you have no control over who can access your cloud, potentially your data and the ability to steal the data. Open source is designed by some of the brightest minds, but there are people out in the environment who are interested in personal gain off the backs of these bright developers and programmers.

This is where the concept comes into its own. Some users pay money and buy COTS solutions to combat the data loss. many others work together to sort out a better solution, creating new innovative solutions that are still free and very effective.

One example of a program that is open to the community, and open source, free, is TrueCrypt – and is an on the fly encryption software program for Mac, Linux and Windows. Further information on the product can be found under “documentation” on the site. This program enables the secure encryption of drives, be they hard drives or USB keys, and there are plans for CD/DVD encryption as well.

There are multitudes of other programs, it is just a case of being able to find them, in the massive open source environment. As all of these programs are free, the only cost to an individual or company is the time taken to find and download them.

originally Posted @ Thursday, 10 June 2010 10:35 AM on



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