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Open Source Software

Abstract

As the general population has developed an increased dependence on information technology, the necessity for quality software offerings has also increased. Software serves the purpose of providing the instructions for the computer and subsequent programs to work correctly and many corporations, such as Microsoft and Apple, have established a firm grasp over the software market. As a result, the emergence of open source software has presented a challenge to the traditional offerings by providing free alternatives. This paper discusses some of the challenges of this method and how it affects proprietary software as this emerging trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future and presents the ability to change the manner in which software is acquired by the user, especially for those who need the ability to apply customization to the applications that are used by both consumers and businesses as initial results indicate that users are expanding their horizons to include open source software as a viable alternative to the elevated costs associated with proprietary software offerings.

Introduction

Software development had humble originations as a means to provide collaboration between scientists and engineers, but as information technology has established a pervasive presence throughout the developed world, the development of software has emerged as a major industry. As proprietary software became more prevalent, many software developers, engineers, and programmers reignited the collaborative measures from the early days of computer technology to present open source software as a method to combat the increasing costs associated with the total cost of computing.

Literature Review

The use of metaphors in the nomenclature associated with the distribution of software allows one to develop a comprehension of the premises presented while models provide representations that may be partial or incomplete. However, as the concepts identified through the use of metaphors prove to be productive, they then become models. Two primary metaphors applied in this area consist of cathedrals and bazaars to serve as a method of identifying proprietary software and open source software. The term ‘cathedral’ is applied to indicate a single-point focus while disallowing diversity as the term ‘bazaar’ reflects the participation of many to develop a single item. As such, a cathedral reflects proprietary software in which one entity presents the completed package while bazaar reflects open source software as there were many separate individuals collaborating freely to produce an item. Through this nomenclature, a ‘gift’ applies to the collaborative efforts afforded to the project, ‘symbolic capital’ extends beyond economic boundaries to encompass the cultural and societal aspects, and ‘kinship amity’ reflects the reciprocal relationships that develop among collaborators.

While the modern definition of ‘hacker’ is commonly applied to individuals who breach security measures to access data without authorization and reflects criminal activity, in the realm of software development, a hacker is an individual who participates in open source software projects and gifts their services as their contribution is provided without compensation. As a result, the gift culture expands and develops a social obligation of a gift exchange; however, this social obligation supports the belief that nothing in life is truly free, including the development as open source software as it requires time and dedication of participation as it reflects the intangible nature of information.

As the use of open source software increased in popularity, efforts were made to normalize the process by associating the practice with freedom through the identification of “free as in free speech, not free beer” according to Stallman as the term “Open source software” was adopted to remove the associated political connotations. As participation in the creation and use of open source software increased, the quality of the software improved as flaws, or bugs, within the code were quickly identified and corrected. As open source software relies on the involvement of numerous individuals to act as programmers, testers, and users, this participation for many became viewed as a method that allowed many software developers to learn and hone their craft.

Due to the lack of proprietary software during the 1960s, scientists and engineers developed open source software (OOS) as a collaborative method. Calling themselves hackers, a culture that developed among these researchers and scientists led to sharing software to use, modify, and share with others. Eventually, this practice was threatened as certain code that was created by communal hackers was licensed to a commercial firm which restricted access to the source code, effectively preventing others, including the creators of the code, from modifying it further. This initiated the modern method of open source software in which the source code is provided under the use of a General Public License or GPL, emphasizing a primary difference between commercial software which provides a stringent license while concealing the source code and the GPL, which provides leniency in the use of the software and in the modification of the source code.

The end user provides varying perceptions of open source software. While open source software provides the source code, end users are mostly unconcerned with this feature provided and place more emphasis on the usability of the software based on the requirements of stability, transparency, and simplifiability, which signifies the inclusion of features that are required by the specifications of the user. These requirements are developed by the needs of the users and take the ideal freedoms of Freedom 0 which provides the freedom to use the software for any purpose, Freedom 1 allows the freedom to study the manner in which the program works and the freedom to change the source code to make it perform in the manner the user desires, Freedom 2 which provides the freedom to distribute the software to others, and Freedom 3 provides the freedom to alter and distribute the modified program to the general public to provide the benefits to the community, as presented by the Free Software Foundation, while suggesting adding the freedom from upgrades, the freedom from undertaking technical studies to serve as the prerequisite to developing a basic understanding, and the freedom to simplify programs when necessary as Freedoms 4 through 6.

A primary difference between open source software and proprietary code is the availability of the source code. Open source software provides the source code to allow collaboration among numerous individuals while the source code is concealed with the release of proprietary software. The open source community provides participation for numerous reasons, including having the ability to improve their personal coding skills while improving the product presented by others. This method also provides a manner of obtaining software testers who also have the ability to make the necessary corrections to the code to reduce the number of bugs and glitches within the program. Open source software encourages the imitation of innovation to complement other goods, including those presented through proprietary software as well as in the human capital necessary to generate the ideas and develop new software, and in areas where the appropriation of value are not considered as the result of an intrinsic motivation to create are present. Proprietary software companies often promote an environment in which the programmers develop their own projects and may work in conjunction on several projects. Open source participation is voluntary and provides programmers to be more selective to work on projects in which they have an interest. As such, the motivations for participating in open source projects differ from those of proprietary software in which the programmers work for high rates of monetary compensation.

The theories of capitalism associated with the development of open source software as the concept of capitalism has expanded beyond the constraints of factory walls. The variations between the productive-unproductive distinctions and how each is applied to the apparatus of the accumulation of capital in open source software reflect the nature of the participation in open source software. While capitalizing on open source software is difficult, it is possible through the application of various licensing agreements while attempting to adhere to the freedoms presented through the concept of open source software, primarily the manner in which the participating individuals provide their labor and intellectual property without expectations of compensation and provides insight into the premise of indirect commercialization in which adherence is afforded to the original freedoms provided through open source software are preserved as the software remains free from commercialization while complementary commodities and services are provided on a fee-based basis. These commodities and services can consist of fees being charged for additional features or for technical support of the product.

Through the applications of the methodologies presented through the Equity Theory and the Equity Sensitive Construct Theory, three motivational behaviors are identified through the development of free and open source software. These three behaviors consist of the benevolent, or the giver, the equity sensitive represents the neutral, and the entitled signifies the taker. In this construct, the behaviors reflect the role of the individual as applicable in the development and distribution of open source software. The benevolent place less value on their individual contribution in comparison to others while the equity sensitive display the preference of the outcome-to-input ratio to be comparable to the contributions of others as the entitled believe their contributions are greater than the contribution of others. An understanding of these factors has the potential to provide the motivation necessary to accomplish a common goal.

Open source software presents a challenge to proprietary software offered by companies such as Microsoft. OOS offers users the ability to alter the code to provide customization to the programs that are available. As open source software became a viable option due to the relaxed licensing considerations, also known as copyleft as it opposes the traditions established through the stringent requirements of copyrights, Microsoft has responded through the expansion of its licensing considerations to provide various levels of accessibility to the source code. Open source software is often seen as a source of added value as the associated costs are often much lower than those of proprietary software, which increases the value observed through the total cost of ownership (TCO), which encompasses the purchase, maintenance, and upgrade costs of the software as well as the purchase and upgrade costs of the hardware in addition to the costs for the training of personnel and legal and administrative costs.

Political motivations are associated with technology and open source software. This reflects the manner in which politics infiltrates most aspects of life, including areas that were originally designed to be apolitical in nature as politicization requires the participation of discursive and organizational practices in order to establish a successful political association. The politics associated with technology can be determined through the evaluation of the social constructs presented and can consist of the governance of societies or social groups as indicated by the term politics of through the motivations concerning the relations and interests of the individual actors as presented through micropopolitics. Through the application of the principles established through the actor-network theory, or ANT, and the social construction of technology, or SCOT, to demonstrate the effects of these theories on the political perceptions of technological artifacts, the politicization of software engineering can be observed, recognized, and evaluated to determine if the underlying politics are cohesive with the personal political views and perceptions of the individual.

The politicization of software development can be observed as advocating the use of free software is considered to be a form of a social movement and this movement has expanded the goals and discourses presented to encompass concerns in the area of social justice. Through the examination of social movement theories and applying them to computerization, the argument is presented that the use of free and open source software serves as a method of attempting to initiate social change through unconventional methods. As such, the use of free and open source software has the ability to reduce the amount of profits obtained by commercial software to effect change to address social justice concerns in the attempt to develop a society that embraces the premises of fairness and impartiality for all.

Further issues encountered through the utilization of open source software are observed in an open source project identified as Goblin demonstrated that issues concerning trust can arise. Through the application of the theoretical concept of a boundary object, in this case, signified by the source repository in which the source code is stored, various participants provided insight concerning their fears of benefitting their competitors by being too trusting and too open. This is compounded by the logistics of free source, which discourages “free riding” and violating licensing requirements, which closely reflects the conduct demanded by businesses. The lack of trust can be encountered on the cognitive level, which assesses the integrity and abilities of another individual or through an effective trust that is defined by social bonds and benevolence. The pseudo-rogue nature of open source software in which the accepted norms found in commercial software production are discarded can present an inherent nature of distrust as the other participants may remain unknown. Further trust issues may arise if access to the boundary object, in this case the code repository, is provided to individuals differently, such as certain parts of the code being denied to one individual while another working on the same project has full access.

In “Open Source Innovation: Towards a Generalization of the Open Source Model Beyond Software”, Penin investigates the possibility of applying the premises presented through open source software to other industries, including apparel and clothing, encyclopedias, biotechnology, and music and entertainment. Penin notes the success demonstrated by open source software has led to the expansion of the concept of open innovation as it applies to other sectors. As open source innovation (OSI) relies on the bazaar concept for development, production, and distribution, these premises may be applied to the innovation process through replacing the proprietary model that is based on exclusion the inclusion presented through OSI; however, it is noted that replacing one method with the other may not prove to be possible and this objective might best be satiated through a combination of the two with OSI serving as a reservoir to present a platform for freely obtaining knowledge that will eventually be utilized in a proprietary manner and delves into the possibility of using licensing and patents to serve as protection for the innovations achieved through the application of OSI.

The potential to applying programs developed and presented through open source software to meet the coursework requirements of higher education is being studied to determine if it is possible to establish a balance between technology and pedagogy to develop a learning environment that encompasses the academic and administrative needs of educational institutions. Through the examination of the available literature concerning the benefits and risks associated with the use of open source software in an educational setting is being discussed in the U.S. even as research indicates that this practice is widely implemented throughout other countries. As a result of the limitations encountered while reviewing the available literature, further research is required to clarify the benefits as demonstrated through the determination of the total cost of ownership associated with this practice.

As a result of the proclivity of the bazaar availability of open source software in contrast to the cathedral implementation of commercial software, attempts to develop cohesive methods of indexing and cataloging the offerings of open source software nationally to further develop constructing indices to provide a robust measurement of the activity and potential for expanding open source software are being undertaken. However, necessity dictates that the determination of the indices necessary to complete this task are being evaluated to ensure the measurements to gauge the real and potential activity The objective of this is to further the use of systematic empirical research to complement prior studies. The authors discuss the measurements used to gauge the real and potential activity in countries around the world to determine the emergence of open source software in various regions while providing further insight into the methodology utilized and indices applied in making these determinations.

Discussion

The methodology applied to software development is basically the same for open source software and proprietary software. Each relies on innovation and each relies on developing source code to provide the instructions for the operation of the software. However, proprietary software is often available at a premium price while open source software is free to use, modify, and distribute. Even though many providers of proprietary software may offer certain versions at no or reduced charges, these versions are often limited in functionality to provide the user with a glimpse of features that are available for the premium price while open source software is offered with no restrictions. Many proprietary software producers, including Microsoft, have responded to the customization provided through the source code released with open source software by providing the source code, it comes at an additional price.

A primary shortcoming of open source software is a lack of user friendliness, such as graphical user interfaces that reflects the simplicity and ease of use that propriety software often offers by following the precedent established by Microsoft and Windows-compatible software. This can be countered by modifying the source code to develop an interface that is customized for the user or for the business and would result in a lower cost to utilize the software even if the services of a professional programmer is required to make the modifications.

The lack of trust that is present in open source software is also observed in proprietary software. However, as individuals who select to participate in the development of open source software are presented with an option that many developers of proprietary software are not afforded and that is the ability to leave a project unfinished as there are very few financial repercussions associated with discontinuing participation.

A primary difference observed in open source software is the manner in which software testing provides numerous professionals the ability to provide peer reviews and the ability to correct issues as they arise instead of returning the program to the programmer for corrections. Instead of having limited software testers, the entire open source software community participates in the detection and correction of flaws to ensure the functionality of the program, vastly improving the quality of software offered.

Conclusion

Software development has emerged as a major industry since the advent of the personal computer. As demonstrated by corporations such as Microsoft, it is possible to attain a majority portion of the available market shares. As such, licensing agreements serve to protect the intellectual property that is presented through the software offerings and corporations often enshroud their offerings in a veil of secrecy as the source code is not provided by design. This prevents others from modifying the software to work in any other manner than the way it was programmed. This led to rogue programmers, or hackers, joining forces to provide software for free to challenge the major corporations’ presence in the software arena. Certain offerings, such as Linux and Mozilla, challenged the monopoly on personal computing by offering options to the operating systems and web browsers presented by Microsoft and Apple. Even though the major corporations have the financial backing to provide programmers and software engineers with compensation for their efforts and contributions, the hackers continue to challenge these accepted practices by developing software without expectation of compensation. However, competition in the marketplace is desirable as it presents the consumers with more options and enables the ability for productivity to increase. Overall, the functionality of the software has more importance than the price of acquisition and the true success of a program is better indicated by the number of satisfied users as opposed to the associated costs.