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What is open source software?

IN ONE of my past articles, I discussed software piracy which attracted a lot of reactions from different readers. Some of the readers expressed shock to what qualifies as piracy while others indicated that it was some good piece of piracy tutorial. Yes, as I indicated in that discussion, that any software installed illegally on the computer without paying for a licence is piracy regardless of its use unless you use it with the owner’s consent. As much as I understand the high cost involved in acquiring a single licence for a computer, I also respect the brains behind the software development. These people spend sleepless nights to ensure that they give you the best.
Anyway, let’s look at the alternative software, just in case you are one of the culprits and need help in acquiring genuine, authentic or even free software without worrying yourself with legal implications of using pirated software. I am sure most of you have heard about open source software. Let me just explain to you a bit about it and how you can get it for personal use and for your business, too.
Open source software refers to the software and application whose source code is available for modification or enhancement by anyone. The source code is the part of software or application that most computer users don’t ever see but use through their computers. Computer programmers can manipulate this code to change the operations of a piece of software which is also called a programme or application.
But what is the difference between open source software and other types of software? Some software, specifically those requiring licensing, can never be modified by anyone, not even a very high-level programmer but only a person, team, or organisation who created it and upholds entire control over it. This kind of software and application is called proprietary or closed source software/application. This is simply because its source code belongs to the original creators, who are the only ones legally allowed to modify it.
There are a lot of proprietary software and applications which include Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Kaspersky, Sage, Corel, Autodesk, etc. These products help with a lot of things such as text processing, spreadsheets, graphics designing, structural designs and so forth. The question is, can you achieve all these tasks using an open source software? The answer is definitely yes! One can literally manage an organisation’s infrastructure or ICT systems based on the open source platform.
I know you should be excited and thinking by now as to why you should continue using proprietary when in actual fact, there is open source software. As much as you can get almost all the benefits from the open source software, it has some limitations. This kind of software is “free” but not completely free in fact, because it comes with some hidden cost such as installation, training and maintenance fees as it is not very user-friendly but might need an expert to set it up for you and show you some tricks of using it.
Apart from that, you are not guaranteed on updates unlike proprietary software which gives you frequent updates. Mind you, updates are very important to your systems because they provide some kind of security and upgrade your software to the latest version. Lastly, the open source software does not give you support like you would get from the proprietary software because nobody would spend their time attending to someone without getting some kind of rewards especially in payment form.
Open source is in two forms – the free open source explained above and the commercial open source which gives you almost all the benefits you would get from the proprietary software. To get this, you need to pay for a licence. But wait a minute, this seems and sounds like confusion already, I am sure some are thinking that I have confused them with what route to take in deciding what software to get. My position is simply to inform you on other alternative software you can use, who knows, it might be cheaper for a student who just needs some Ubuntu operating system which comes with libre office application which enable them process text just like other proprietary software. The beauty about these open-source software is that they only require one to have internet connection and download them. There are a lot of forums available online to give you information about open source, people bring different experiences on those platforms, questions and answers are provided and programmers themselves upload their software links on these platforms and make them available to the public domain free of charge.
Some people prefer open source software because they see it to be more secure in terms of virus attacks and stable as a support platform for other software. Others may prefer open source because they genuinely cannot afford to buy proprietary software. But as you explore any form of software, please remember they are all vulnerable in their own ways and need protection from attacks. Good Luck!
The author is Zambia Daily Mail Limited deputy ICT manager. For any reaction, contributions or comments, please write to