What is open-source software? (Definition and benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many organisations now use applications to automate tasks, requiring them to select the best software for their needs. While many developers of these applications deny public access to their codes, open-source software creators do the opposite, allowing for community development, collaboration and transparency. If you work in the technological industry or are interested in doing so, it may be helpful to learn more about this kind of software and how it can help you in your career. In this article, we talk about the open-source software definition and explain its benefits and differences from closed-source alternatives.

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Open-source software definition

If you're wondering about open-source software definition, you may be interested in learning that open-source software is a type of software that grants users access to the source code used to create it, which then allows them to examine, use, modify, improve, view and share it for various purposes. This accessibility allows developers to collaborate on different projects that other teams, companies or organisations have worked on.

The source code is the code that programmers use to create a program. By releasing the existing code, other programmers can work together to release an improved version of the software by altering, assessing and enhancing it. Open-source programmers typically provide their software under a licence that enables users to install it on as many systems as they choose and edit or use it in any way they desire. They can employ these programs for administrative, household, business or educational purposes.

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Why is open-source software important?

Open-source software is important because it promotes user collaboration, program modification and software expansion. Many professionals, besides programmers and software developers, also employ open-source software. With private, proprietary or closed-source software, only the creating team, developers or company can access and control it, which means that users can't change the existing program to better meet their needs. With open-source software, people from different arenas may profit from and create other versions they then make available to the public.

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What are the benefits of open-source software?

Open-source applications may be beneficial for:

Improved adaptation

Since open-source software may not have pre-defined uses, it's adaptable for various purposes. Open-source applications allow users to access and modify the source code to meet their needs. It's also easy to identify community members who require particular features, allowing you to connect, communicate and work together on how to enhance the source code for different situations.

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Collaborative communities

Open-source applications allow users to alter and include programs in their projects for free. This accessibility can help foster an environment of cooperation and sharing that may result in increased application functionality. The open-source software community comprises people who develop, test, utilise and promote it. Community members occasionally organise gatherings and groups to work together on updated software.

Improved supportability

Many users consider open-source software to be less error-prone than closed-source applications. As many people review and contribute to the software, they are more likely to notice code errors or omissions. Sometimes a team of creators or even just one person is responsible for creating proprietary software. Closed-source programmers could miss issues that an open-source audience may not due to a lack of support and fewer individuals evaluating the source code.

Training

Open-source software is an excellent tool for anyone learning to code because it's accessible to everyone. Programming students can examine the code and learn how to create their applications. Also, it makes it easier for them to share their work with others and receive feedback that could help them develop their skills. Programmers with more experience can add value to someone else's work by pointing out bugs and fixing errors. Students can then learn from the changes made.

CV development

Employers may prefer candidates with programming and troubleshooting abilities for open-source software. Some occupations may require the ability to work on particular programs, while others may need you to use open-source software in your daily operations. Learning about various applications can help you improve your CV and make you the favourite candidate during an interview.

Software longevity

The potential longevity of open-source software over proprietary software is another reason some users prefer it. They may be confident that their tools can remain useful and preserved, whether they are working on long-term projects or revisiting an older project. Users frequently release their code openly, so the software can continue to operate even if they stop working on it.

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What are the differences between open-source and closed-source software?

It's important that you can identify the differences between closed-source and accessible source software you use in your daily operations. Closed-source or proprietary software contains source code that is exclusively accessible to a particular team or organisation, as opposed to open-source software, which contains source code that is free to use by everyone. Other variations between them include:

Personalisation

You can change the source code of open-source software to meet your unique requirements. Although proprietary software developers do not allow you to alter their codes, you can ask them to fix problems like bugs. With an open-source licence, you can make multiple changes to suit your needs, though there can be certain restrictions, and you may require a specialist who can work with the code, such as a developer.

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Licensing fee

Licensing for open-source software is typically free or at very low costs. The price of closed-source software varies depending on several factors, including its size, user base, features and duration of usage. Providers may require you to purchase a licence and agree to the usage conditions before using closed-source software.

Security

Both types of software offer you security, although in different ways. Since anybody can access the code for open-source software, more users are available to spot and fix bugs, which can boost security. With closed-source software, although you can't address flaws in the code, you can feel secure knowing that other users can't alter the program.

Technical support

Open-source software usually lacks support staff to assist you or respond to enquiries, unlike typical closed-source software. Closed-source software includes support groups to handle any problems users may have with it. Open-source users typically consult their knowledgeable staff or seek assistance from internet forums.

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Upgrades

One of the main advantages of employing open-source software is its flexibility for updates and goal-specific customisation. You can use open-source software to develop new features if your developers have the skills to do so. With closed-source software, the proprietary owners make decisions about updates or new features.

Usability

Users pay for closed-source software, requiring its owners to prioritise user experience optimisation. Although open-source software can be simpler for some tasks, closed-source software is often more user-friendly. User's skill levels affect usability with either type of software.

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What are open-source software licences?

Open-source software licences allow users to apply the software to whatever purpose they choose and specify any limitations on use, access, modification and sharing. Open-source software providers give free usage under some copyleft open-source licences, which require modifiers to provide their source code and their software version. Copyleft is a term used to indicate that redistribution work is subject to the same license as the original. Other agreements forbid programmers from adding a licensing cost to the versions of their programs.

The idea that all open-source software is free is a prevalent misconception. It's not always the case. Software developers that build or modify software may charge for their work. Businesses usually decide to charge for services and support rather than for the program itself. Even if the open-source agreement requires them to give their source code when they sell the program, this can still help them make money. In certain circumstances, they may charge for assistance with software installation, use and troubleshooting.

What are some examples of open-source software?

Some examples of open-source software are:

  • WordPress: WordPress is a system that helps with content management, and it contains accessible features, themes and plug-in architecture.

  • Linux: Linux is a globally supported operating system. Examples of devices that use it include servers, embedded devices, mainframes, smartphones and computers.

  • VLC media player: The VLC media player is open-source software for running media files and streaming servers. It works on most mobile devices and operating systems.

  • Firefox: Firefox is a browser that uses another open-source rendering machine, Gecko, to display web pages.

  • LibreOffice: LibreOffice is open-source software from the Document Foundation used for spreadsheets, presentations, formula editing, word processing, flowchart and database management programs. It is a successor to OpenOffice, which was itself an open-sourced version of StarOffice.

  • Apache: Apache is a free web server platform supported by a large development community. The server maintains data, handles requests and provides online assets accessibly.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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