Some suggestions when looking at OpenSource products

People mostly think about “free software” when they think of Open Source. I guess this is the biggest miscomprehension there is, as Open Source doesn’t need to be free. It also doesn’t need to be “home brew” also, as many Open Source projects simply are “Enterprise Grade”. This article is meant to tutor you on finding the right Open Source product for your “problem”…

The Definition
Let’s go to the “Open Source Initiative” to found ourselves the definition of Open Source:
Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:

  • 1. Free Redistribution : The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
  • 2. Source Code : The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
  • 3. Derived Works : The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.
  • 4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code : The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.
  • 5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups : The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
  • 6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor : The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
  • 7. Distribution of License : The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
  • 8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product : The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.
  • 9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software : The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.
  • 10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral : No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

Where to look?
I would suggest you take a look at the following sites:

There are some other directories that might help you out like EOS Directory, OpenSource IT or Ohloh.

How to choose?
Always run through the following checklist when deciding about choosing a certain OpenSource product:

  • Community Size : Most OpenSource projects live solely on contributions (think about the linux kernel), yet other depend on a mother company (think RedHat, WordPress, …). Yet the community behind the product makes it as strong as it is. They’ll do a lot of testing, bugfixing, addon contributions or even support you when you are having problems. Turn it around as much as you want, the size of the community matters!
  • Documentation : Some think that OpenSource means that you get the code and you have to read through it… Despite that you may be allowed to in some cases, this is not the way things should go. Always check up on how well the project is documented. This will give you an indication on it’s maturity.
  • Business Model : The projects who are mostly kept alive by companies will have some form of business model behind them. This will in fact be “services based” in most cases, yet be sure to check this out before you start integrating the project. There are some projects out there who may want to do a “vendor lockin” on you, even though they present themselves as Open Source. (example)
  • License : It’s a myth that once you build on top of Open Source products that you have to publish your own code. But you (mostly) have to provide the code for the Open Source products you integrated into your solution. Taking an Open Source project, enhancing it and selling it “Closed Source” is (in most cases) not possible.

The two most commonly used licenses are GPL & BSD. They are both OpenSource licenses, but differ in the fact that BSD just doesn’t care what you do with the code. It’s simply put; the most permisive license. GPL is what’s called “Copy Left” which means that you have to share to the code if you alter/distribute it.

I hope this article helps you on your quest to find the right piece of software… 😉


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