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The Power of Open Source

14th October 2010

Open source, even though it emerged in the context of software development, nowadays should be seen as a new way the millennials are using this a tool for democratising and instilling new values. Because it is publicly available and can be modified, open source projects, products and initiatives are embracing a way of working fit for the 21st century – collaborative, willingness for open exchange, transparency and community based. Below, see why fellow member and Drupal expert Hedley Smith works within the realms of open source:

1. Open source can lower barriers for developing countries, as it is free there is no monetary commitment and no risk of ‘vendor lock in’ with companies from richer companies selling their propitiatory software which is difficult to move away from. As the source code is free it can also be easily modified and translated into local languages. As open source is developed on a global scale it can also create connections between people of different countries, and help with education in computing as documentation is often widespread and freely available to access online.  See http://www.eldis.org/fulltext/opensource.pdf for more. Firefox OS is a good example of an open source product being rolled out across developing nations: http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/firefox-os-comes-to-africa-with-oranges-40-package-deal/ and there are countless other innovations empowered by open source (e.g http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/09/16/mexico-sees-its-first-village-cellphone-network/2821643/)

2. I saw Anke Domscheit-Berg speak at DrupalCon Munich in 2012 (see her talk here: http://munich2012.drupal.org/speakers/keynotes/anke-domscheit-berg.html) where she talked about digital democracy, and how open source ideologies are being used within government. I would say that open source in itself does nothing to democracy directly just by being there, but as a tool and set of principles it can do a huge amount for democracy by being adopted and used throughout government – it can reduce the risk and cost of large IT projects and create much higher levels of transparency when used within government. When the Government Digital Service announced their ‘Digital by Default’ strategy a few years ago they also started to use and recommend all government services were built using Open Source, see this blog post: https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2012/10/12/coding-in-the-open/

3. Open source software currently accounts for a large proportion of the digital economy globally, I couldn’t find any stats on this but I know for instance that most web servers (60%+) run off open source software and all android phones use open source. In the web development industry open source dominates the framework / content management sytem landscape (Drupal & WordPress being the largest).  There are some stats here: http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html

Here’s a great short video on how Linux / open source is built: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVpbFMhOAwE