Free and Open Source Software Social/Economic Implications

Free and Open Source Software Social/Economic Implications

            The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the gradual but rapid invention of powerful and sophisticated computer hardwares that could support various applications, and in the late 90s, softwares that includes the ”free and ”open source” could now be tuned to perform specific tasks. In other quarters, particularly in Europe, free and open source software can also be referred as a ” Free/Libre or Open Source Software” (FLOSS). This kind of software can easily be downloaded from the internet and is usually distributed with the same source code that a programmer would normally use to maintain it, and later on redistribute the modified version to other users. The software’s license has no user restrictions and discriminations and its code can therefore be distributed, studied or modified across various fields of endeavor, with the sample licenses normally attached or included in an appendix.

Open source software is also termed free because no fee is charged upon subscribing or downloading it. The main philosophy of free software is the user freedom while its ‘open source’ centers on its peer-to-peer strengths and development model. Users and developers can both improve the quality and functionality of the software through cooperation that has created an online community. This kind of cooperation has essentially seen the utilization of the web and other internet sites as the repository for the source code, design documents, discussions, bugs and issue lists, documentation, and other artifacts that are usually associated with the open-source project. The copyright owners of the source code generally have full control of these projects and will occasionally procure the advice of the online community about its direction. Although the ad hoc nature and development of these projects may result in software failures and poor quality, the success of free and open source projects has interestingly continued to increase the usage of source codes for fully-fledged software development.  Through its interactive on-line projects, the open source projects have allowed individuals be active participants rather than a consumer.

In my opinion, I do back and encourage the use and production of free and open source software because it has changed the Information Technology world at large from the socio-economic perspective. The real opportunities brought by free and open source software have gradually continued to come from different directions.  Throughout this writing, the terms ”free” and ”open source” are going to be used interchangeably.

The Social Implications

            The free and open source phenomenon has widely affected social ties to the formation and evolution of an on-line open source community. Other developers may also join a project due to prior social ties to project initiators. FLOSS projects have virtually enabled a community of diverse members to coordinate and co-exist harmoniously with the aid of the internet technology, which has solved and handled communication difficulties and the massive decentralized projects.   This practice eventually improves socio-technical awareness for those who would like to improve their project’s effectiveness by learning from the FLOSS development teams (Li 175). These communities are generally connected by a derived goal and belief that bridges the traditional boundary of ownership. The wide social pool and individual background has also helped in the coordination and selection of project problems that best suits a person’s interests and capabilities. These conditions give a developer the chance to explore his/her talent with also the opportunity to achieve the best of his/her performance in general (Li 176).

The free and open source developers and the community at large are socially bound by rules and ethics that forms and promotes the sharing of different cultural beliefs, interests, value systems, and other work oriented ideologies that usually captivates their software development practices  and mechanisms. All these goals, beliefs, and the construed organizational rules have tied this virtual community together that any conflict that may arise is easily mitigated with a final resolution.  This kind of social interaction may prove to be an educational tour and advancement of ideologies that might help in class teaching and discussions by providing open courseware for distance learning. The open source concept can also be used to provide the necessary tools required to support academic administration, student registration and the management of library systems (Deek & McHugh 317).

The Economic Implications

            The economic effects of open source software are gradually being felt not only in the software industry, but also in the greater society. Various economies have continued to be impacted by the changing structures in the software market. Therefore, commercial companies such as the computing industry, entertainment industry, and the business community have exploited different strategies for competition purposes. The viability of open source software has also motivated and established different business models around the globe. Economic factors such as ”network effects”, ”total cost of use”, and ”vendor lock-in” have being relevant elements, which surrounds the open source market. In respect to its Windows platform, market giants such as Microsoft have hugely gained advantage and benefited from the Vendor lock-in element. While the ‘‘network effects’’ increases market, penetration through its feedback effects that levels the market share which also includes web servers, browsers, and the operating system fields. Therefore according to the large number of users using a product or service, the network effect element will also increase the value of the product or service (Deek & McHugh 15). This kind of pattern and formula has increasingly influenced the marketing choices and strategies for software products. The ”total cost of ownership” is a business metric that evaluates products and compares its proprietary to open source products that may be claimed by the proprietary provider to be initially cheaper due to it being free of charge.

Governments around the world will also save millions of dollars per annum in license costs derived from the importation and replacement of expensive software systems, and will make a progress in stamping out major trade deficits associated with the IT industry. Open source softwares will also protect nations from the occasional coercion by giant corporate entities that control the ”closed-source” softwares that major governments rely on, and through this, there will be a greater control of the software from a national security perspective. Various companies within different nations will also benefit from the open source concept by developing, improving, and supporting the software without the help of external corporations.

Implications to Companies

            Many companies and information technology enterprises such as Microsoft have endlessly continued to benefit from open source software by utilizing the labor offered by unpaid volunteers. Although in some extent, such companies have ”accommodated” the labor offered in the development of the open source projects. Also during the process of the online projects, these companies have benefited from indirect sales revenues that are gained by the stimulating demand for other services and products offered by the firms (Li177). Therefore, investing in open source benefits the companies because the unpaid service offered by the programmers gives an additional value to a product they sell. This kind of open source projects therefore reduces collaboration costs, and increases the speed of development. The open source applications also turn the conventional business model by allowing by companies to customize them to suit their needs. However, the General Public License (GPL) associated with the open source has been criticized by Microsoft as viral because of its low-cost characteristic, which makes it a competitive threat in implementation as opposed to its closed-source applications (Miller 141). Despite this threat, major companies have continued to enjoy the talent pool witnessed in the online community when it comes solving problems associated with their applications. The open source community therefore serves a good forum to add in the best talent into their bandwagon. Many companies also support the open source concept because they will have an extensive knowledge and solution to a complimentary product from which they can in turn profit from it by subsidizing the open source contributions. In addition, these companies may release a proprietary code with an aim of further developing the open source project, and if it succeeds, the program will be widely used with the firms gaining market leadership an increasing their profitability through its complimentary segments(Miller148) . In some cases, most companies do engage in open source projects with an aim of learning its strengths and weaknesses as a strategy to improve their closed-source products and to better position themselves in the competitive software market. These major companies can also work with individuals towards software development without incurring licensing cost. This is due to the lack of intellectual property rights that would hinder them working together.

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