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Basics of Open Source Coding

Basics of Open Source Coding - PCSTATS
Abstract: The programs that run the text you're reading right now, are probably configured in such a way as to prevent your tampering with them. But Open -Source seeks to change all that.
Filed under: Software Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: none Oct 05 2000   S. Dennis  
Home > Reviews > Software > none

An Open and Shut Case: The Basics of the Software-Coding Marketplace

The programs that run the text you're reading right now, most probably commercial products that allow you to access the internet, that allow you to type documents and produce spreadsheets on your PC, are probably configured in such a way as to prevent your tampering with them. Most people take it for granted that software is copyrighted and that it's even illegal to share programs among computers. But what if you could open that software up, tinker with its entrails, get other people to tinker with your tinkerings, then tinker some more -- until finally a collaborative utopian program was created, in perfect legality?

What you'd be doing there would be called open-sourcing, and it wouldn't be new. Open source software presents a noncommercial alternative to the Microsofts and the Corels and the Netscapes of the computer world. Commercial software essentially works like this: someone writes the source code, it gets run through a compiler that translates that code into a binary file that can't be changed, and it gets packaged and shipped to your local Future Shop. You buy it; you either love it or hate it; but you have little say in the matter from that point on.

Open source software, by contrast, bypasses the compiler and keeps the source code accessible to programmers and users alike. Indeed, the philosophy behind open-sourcing is that the best programmers are users who have their own desires to fulfill in terms of a program's functionality. If you amass sufficient numbers of such programmers behind one product, you'll inevitably produce something that's both user-friendly and super-stable.

And that's just what Richard M. Stallman did back in the 80s, when software distributors were becoming more and more mum with their source codes. Stallman conceived of GNU, a self-referential acronym meaning "GNU's Not Unix," as a project that would write a free, open-to-all-programmers software application based on Unix. He soon found, however, that in order to protect the openness of this enterprise, he'd have to come up with some equivalent of a copyright license for it.

This became the foundation of what is now fundamental to open source software. Stallman rightly surmised that, in order to prevent the copyrighting of new code, he'd have to "copyleft" it, so to speak. From this was born the General Public License, or GPL. Under the GPL, users are able to access source codes, change them, and redistribute them.

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Contents of Article: none
 Pg 1.  — Basics of Open Source Coding
 Pg 2.  Free Software Leads to Commercial Software

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