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What Is Open Source?

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What Is Open Source?

Open source software or open data or open standardsOpen source software, open systems, open data, open standards, open….
‘Openness’ is a topic that is increasingly being talked about. From reading and listening to the discussion, it is clear there is no consistent definition of what Open is. However that doesn’t detract from the passion of open advocates and the benefits of Open source, data, standards etc.

Lets look at some of the components

Open source software consists of applications and components where the source code is publicly available for others to use and enhance as they wish. Such software has large (online) communities of developers and users sharing information on bugs, enhancements and ideas related to the application or component.

Examples include:

  1. Joomla or Drupal – web content management applications
  2. Thunderbird – desktop email and messaging application
  3. LibreOffice – desktop productivity suite
  4. Linux – operating system

In the world of open source software, there are two types of licences used to ‘govern’ ongoing development in summary;

  • GNU General Public Licence where the main principle is that if you use an open source application or component in your software then your software needs to be made available as open source as well
  • Apache Licence where the principle is a little different in that you don’t have to make your software application open to other developers even though you may have used open software in the application

(Open) standards are needed to produce open software

In order for software to be open, standards are needed. Open standards exist in many software areas but in order to considered as an open standard,Β each one must comply with a number of criteria. Two examples of open standards are;

  • TCP / IP – together these two open protocols enable networks around the world to exchange data and thus was a big contributor to the development of the worldwide web
  • HTML – one of the markup language standards for web pages

Such standards work from a similar principle as open software; if a standard is good enough, then they are used, otherwise an existing standard is enhanced or a new standard is started and shared around the world. One benefit from using open standards is ‘interoperability‘ where my application or component can work in different software environments.

Then there is open data

The final open component is open data, which is as important as the other components. As the use of the web has increased, so has the amount of data and information, both personal and business, from new product and customer announcements to holiday photos and Government services information. With this growth, a debate on how best to use all this information with due consideration to privacy, security and the potential benefits of information sharing has taken to the air.

In an ‘open’ letter from Google on the “Meaning of Open”, three useful principles of openness were discussed;

  • Value – by sharing information and data companies can make products and services that can be beneficial to people. In return, companies need to explain in simple language to users the value that they receive in turn for sharing some or all of their data
  • Transparency – where it needs to be easy for a user to find out what information is being gathered and how it is being used
  • Control – where the final decision is in the hands of a user to easily control how much information is shared via such features as opt-out.

innovation and new ideas with open software data and standards
From my experiences of the Open world, I find it innovative and with that innovation it can be a little chaotic as open source software, standards and data evolve. Evolution is an apt term for the Open world because I think it’s a longer term game but progress is ongoing.

Richard is a believer and advises companies on the use of Cloud services, Agile and Lean start-up principles. His focus is on innovative solutions that bring practical business benefits. He has over 18 years experience in a variety of IT roles, including over 10 years management experience working for companies such as IBM Software, Oracle & KPMG Consulting. In his various roles, his focus has been on rolling out innovative IT solutions and services, using user centered design to deliver practical business benefits. Richie is a PMI certified Project Management Professional and a certified Scrummaster.

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  • Elli, this is great advice. Listening is for me the most important sense when it comes to business, it’s something we all like to think we are good at yet in reality few of us are. It’s something I personally need to be conscious of and I’m glad to say it’s a skill I have been able to improve over the years. This may get me in trouble but on average I think women are more natural & active listeners than men πŸ˜‰

  • Anonymous


    While women might be better listeners than men (check out this article:, there is still a lot we don’t know. The major thing thing is to know why we are talking and listening.

  • Anonymous

    Listening,listening and listening is a great habbit. Once listened properly half the battle is won already.One knows where the other person stands,What is he thinking,What are his demands.And in business you learn about your competitors,about market,about pricing,only thru proper listening.

  • Hi Elli – great post thanks!
    To use statistics, we should be listening 80% of the time as Coaches. This helped me a lot to improve my active listening skills, and to know when to stop talking for the sake of it. I am a culprit of using my mouth when nervous, I could talk for Ireland.
    Being a Trainer, this is a natural talent, and a useful skill at tea breaks, to build a rapport with participants.
    However, in Coaching, listening is key – and the simple 80/20 rule helps me on a basic level πŸ™‚

  • Good post Richie. Regarding your last point, yes, Open Source is still tricky to a lot of companies. Not everybody is on board with the idea. However the more big companies adopt this software, the faster the trend will move. We saw Cisco this year, leaving their proprietary software and moving to WordPress with their mega blog:

  • Hi Richie, nnI use lots of OS tools on a personal level but… for corp projects would usually recommend apps from vendors that have support systems and SLAs in place, eg for mission critical apps. nnIvan

  • Folks, thanks for the retweets.nnIvan, agree with your principle. What I am seeing from some clients, is that they are happy with the feature/service profile of some open apps to use them in their daily business, While other open software such as MySQL / SugarCRM are adding ‘enterprise’ support agreements (at a cost) to re-assure clients for important apps/services. – Horses for courses etc. nnFred, agree with your point as regards the more companies that use open software the greater the trend. For me, the big plus with the open world is the sharing and innovation. nnI will be interested to hear any comments on the ‘open data’ portion of the blog particularly in relation to Google’s value/control & transparency principles.nnThanks

  • Hi there Richie,nnYou’ve picked a great topic to explain, as open source is an area of confusion.nI’m fairly familiar with most of the above, especially the CMS.nnWhat do you fell are the main benefits of open source in comparison to closed?nTina

  • Christina, thanks for the comment. Main benefits of open source for me are an active community innovating a product/service together. It may take longer than with proprietary software, but in the longer term there can be more success. I would agree with the point in the Google open letter, that after a period of time, the closed software will peak and head on a downward curve.

  • Hi Richie, good to see you back on here! Nice explanations and helped lift some of my personal fog around the subject πŸ™‚

  • Slightly off-topic:nOpen Source software is yet a necessity for small businesses, however i feel that it has become the “norm” and it’s ever more difficult for people to get paid for their software (especially mobile apps).nnMy humble observation is that we have nurtured a whole generation of free software users, to the extent that they have little regard for copyright at all!! If they can get it free, then great, even if that means pirating or availing of the black market.nnBut that may simply mean that online usage is developing at such a rate that to pay for all the services we use, would negate the direction we are heading with Semantic Web (?)nnThe debate continues…

  • Happy to help…

  • Elaine, thanks for the comments and observations. This discussion needs more time and a coffee or two!nI am not a legal expert, but as I mentioned in the article, there are different licence(s) options that should be used with open source software. So if open source software is being used as per the licence arrangements, then that’s fine, if it’s not then its piracy – not because its open source, but because the licence arrangements are not being adhered.nnRichie

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the lovely comment Tara.

  • I think the inital valuation meant that the Facebook share price had no where to go except down. That said, Facebook is now going to be much more focused on generating revenues and could mean good news for investors, provided they can continue to keep users happy.

  • factoring financial services

    Invoice factory are so receiving with different accounting and rangable industries. The obligations suppliers are so traders with factoring retailers.

  • I often get frustrated that people cannot just pay on time. I know there is so much at stake by witholding money, on both sides, but the small business owner is always the one to lose out the most – especially with cash-flow.
    That has a knock-on effect – they don’t get paid, so cannot pay the other small business who provides services, and on and on.
    And we have to pay the big companies up front, or on time! No lee-way. Rant over!

    Andrew, great post and I agree about discounting – I use it to get paid on or before time – improves my cash-flow immensely.
    I enjoyed especially your points 3 and 4, especially for the medium size business or HTSU that is expanding quickly – and finance is desperately needed.

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