Here are frequently asked questions on Open Source Software.

About Open Source Software

Open source software is a type of computer software that is typically distributed for free and which is accompanied by access to its source (program) code.

An open source license typically grants users the right to review, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. There are a number of different open source license forms but they all allows the code to be used and distributed to others so long as it is distributed under the original license.

Many open source licenses require that modified or enhanced versions of the code be distributed under a similar open source license, which promotes collaboration to continuously improve the original software distribution. You can read more about open source software licenses on the Open Source Initiative website.

Yes. Properly developed open source software can be just as secure as commercial software. The security of any software application is a function of how well the developers did their job in making the software secure. We trust that Microsoft Office is secure because we believe Microsoft will ensure that it is secure. Open source software from a trusted source can be just as secure.

Remember, most of the Internet runs on open source software developed by thousands of developers worldwide. Many applications we use every day have open source components that interact with our data as well.

In short, widely-used open source software from trusted developer groups or which is certified by a reputable organization is just as secure as other commercial software.

Here are three reasons to use open source software including:

  1. It costs less than equivalent proprietary software.

  2. It has equal or better features than proprietary programs.

  3. It is often backed by a strong community of developers and technology companies.

Indeed, in many cases, large technology companies like Google and Microsoft release code to open source, while other companies offer managed services around enterprise versions.

This is not to say open source is always better than proprietary software. For example, Libre Office has components similar in function to Microsoft Office. It is feature rich and free but you may prefer Microsoft’s proprietary software for a number of valid reasons that outweigh license fees. It is a matter of choice and choosing the right tool for the job.

Open source software projects can be developed by an individual, a company (Google, for example, donates thousands of its projects to open source), or by a community of developers. In many cases, once the software is open sourced, a community of individuals and even companies will invest in maintaining and advancing the software. Most of the software distributions used to manage Internet traffic are supported by communities of developers from around the world.

Many companies will offer open source versions of their software but also offer an “enterprise” version. You have to pay a license fee for the enterprise version but it typically comes with support, bug fixes, enhancements and security monitoring. For example Red Hat offers an enterprise version of Linux, the leading open source operating system. Technology services companies also support open source software, offering enterprise versions and managed hosting services for a fee.

Most open source developers store and work on an open source content manager called Github (ironically now owned by Microsoft. Github is an open source software development platform that is built to support worldwide collaboration on software. The Merlin Foundation will sponsor and support open source development projects on Github and provide a central repository for the legal profession to learn about these projects.

If you have other questions about the Merlin Foundation, please contact us.

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