Open source tools in software development are becoming more and more popular every year. This trend is likely to continue as open source licensing achieves new limits of flexibility. Free use of technology has been foundational to a number of software development projects that have changed the way we live, such as the mobile operating system Android. In this article, we explore how and why the software industry has arrived at the open source model, and why businesses should take full advantage of it.
The history of open source software
The tradition of open source goes back to the late 1960s, when the evolution of operating systems and compilers led to increased costs of software development. The industry used a model of bundling software and hardware together to offset the costs of development and support. In other words, software was technically free, yet costly to produce and maintain. Additionally, many customers would have preferred to handle their own software needs rather than pay that price. In 1969, an antitrust suit filed against IBM resolved the situation, calling bundled software anticompetitive.
This led to the rise of restrictive software licenses. In the late 1970s and 1980s, these became the "program products" sold by companies. Bill Gates wrote a letter in 1976, condemning the unlicensed sharing of Microsoft's Altair BASIC product among hobbyist computer users. Businesses stopped distributing the source code of their commercial software.
In the 1980s and 1990s, through the activity of activists like Richard Stallman, software sharing grew as an informal practice. In 1983, Stallman launched the GNU Project, and a first version of the GNU General Public License was published in 1989. In 1991, Linus Torvald started the Linux kernel, then released it under the GNU General Public License a year later as the first complete free operating system.
Finally, in 1998, the free software movement adopted the term "open source", first suggested by Christine Peteroson. Torvalds expressed his approval, and open source took off, gaining traction in the media and the industry.
Open source software development today
Open source licenses
It is important to understand how an open source license works before utilizing open source tools. Generally, open source licenses require that the program be shared along with its original sources, and that it must retain those characteristics when further distributed or modified. This allows open source software developers to use existing open source code in their own projects, while protecting the original developers' work.
Open source pros and cons
Using open source tools for software development can offer both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, open source solutions are free to use and there is usually a large community of developers available to help troubleshoot any issues that arise. Additionally, open source technologies are often more secure and reliable than paid solutions.
On the other hand, open source tools may not be up-to-date when it comes to feature sets. Open source developers are usually volunteers, so open source projects can be slow to respond to customer requests or update their offerings. As such, open source is not always the best option for mission-critical software.
Main advantages of open source
Free to use
- Larger community of developers available for support
- Usually more secure and reliable than paid solutions
- Access to source code which allows for more control
- Better documentation
Main disadvantages of open source
- Not always up-to-date with feature sets
- Response time to customer requests or updates can be slow
Open source success stories
One example of an open source project that changed the world is the blockchain technology, Ethereum. It is currently being used for cryptocurrency applications, financial services, and other projects that open up new doors of opportunities for developers.
Open source programming languages, frameworks and development tools to use in 2023
As open source continues to grow, there are many promising new open source technologies emerging. In 2023, developers should keep their eyes on programming languages such as Rust and Go, frameworks like React and Angular, databases like MongoDB and PostgreSQL, and open source development tools such as Jupyter Notebook and Visual Studio Code. All of these open source solutions are free to use, open to modifications and have strong user communities for support.
Rust is a programming language developed by Mozilla that combines low-level systems programming with high-level features such as type safety and memory safety. It has quickly gained popularity as it allows engineers to write code that runs very fast.
Go, or Golang, was created at Google in 2009 and it is designed for efficient and reliable software development. It is open source and has a fantastic set of tools for distributed systems, networking, image manipulation, text processing and more.
MongoDB is an open source, high-performance NoSQL database that supports JSON data structures. It is popular amongst developers due to its scalability and easy setup, as well as its ability to handle large amounts of data with ease.
PostgreSQL is an open source object-relational database system. It supports many features, such as indexing, concurrency control and transaction management.
Jupyter Notebook is an interactive programming language environment that enables developers to create notebooks with code, equations, visualizations and narrative text. It is used by many data scientists, engineers and education professionals to create documents that can be shared with others.
Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code is an open source code editor created by Microsoft. It supports multiple programming languages and has a wide range of features such as debugging, code completion and syntax highlighting.
Tensorflow is an open source machine learning library developed by Google. It can be used to build powerful and accurate predictive models, which are able to detect patterns in large datasets quickly and accurately.
Theano is an open source Python library for numerical computation that works on GPUs. It supports symbolic differentiation, optimization and high-level integration with other open source libraries such as Numpy and SciPy.
Django is an open source web application framework written in Python. It enables developers to quickly and easily create powerful, secure and dynamic websites with minimal setup and configuration.
Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails is an open source web application framework written in Ruby. It is used to create database-backed web applications quickly and easily, and has a huge community for support and guidance.
Appreciating the free software movement
It is clear that open source technologies will continue to be an important part of any software project in the near future. By understanding open source licensing, developers can make the most of their tools to improve the efficiency of their projects. Additionally, by staying up-to-date on open source technology, software engineers can take advantage of new programming languages, frameworks and development tools that offer powerful solutions at no cost, supplemented by the extremely useful contributions of the free software community.
By leveraging open source technologies, software developers have access to free and open solutions that can help them create powerful applications. Open source provides open access to software and code, enabling open collaboration between teams of developers and new opportunities for innovation.