Why Open-Source Makes Sense- It’s Not a Terrible Idea!
As you can imagine, we get into a lot of intriguing conversations about technology. One recent conversation brought up the following statement: “Open Source is a terrible idea.” It’s great to be able to challenge or explore statements like this, especially for kids excited about STEM education and tech education. Let’s dive in and discover just how “terrible” open source really is.
Open Source — The Basics
Open source means accessible to all. It’s a term generally given to software or code. Open source meaning that the source code, the code that makes the software work, can be used and manipulated by anyone. A popular example is WordPress, an open-source content management system used by bloggers all over the world. Users can build a blog using their free publishing platform. Alternatively, they can download the open-source software and create their own website from scratch.
Benefits of Open Source
The immediate benefit of open-source code is that it’s entirely customisable. This is ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to be constrained by the limitations of “out-of-the-box” software.
Open-source is naturally collaborative, as anyone can get involved. This encourages people of all backgrounds to share their ideas and improvements. It’s an effective way to decentralises projects and generally make them more accessible.
This helps create diverse communities that provide support, resources, and documentation, usually all shared free of charge.
Is it a Terrible Idea?
Having read our introduction to open source, you might wonder why some people are still opposed to the idea of open-source products. In fact, there are a few reasons why proprietary, or closed-source software, might be preferred:
· Some closed-source software is simply considered standard, like the entire Microsoft Office suite.
· Support for open-source projects is often limited to who in the community is available at that moment in time. Many proprietary options will have dedicated support on hand most of the time.
· Many people prefer the ease of managed software or software-as-a-service (SaaS) that means all they have to do is download an app or create a subscription.
· Others simply don’t have the time or inclination to have a go at coding.
Another concern is that when an open-source product becomes less popular, the support and maintenance around it wanes. This can leave people who rely on the product in a difficult position. Thankfully, most current open-source projects are expanding rather than declining, as more and more people get behind collaborative and community-led initiatives.
Tech Companies Winning at Open Source
Raspberry Pi combines an open-source operating system and open-source software with a chargeable piece of hardware. Coding and electronics fans can buy the hardware then use the open-source aspects to create completely bespoke projects. The sales of the hardware fund the open-source side of things. It also allows the Raspberry Pi Foundation to put money back into various charitable and educational ventures. Other electronics companies that do provide open hardware include Seeed and Adafruit, American companies with distributors in the U.K. providing completely modifiable products aimed at everyone from hobbyists to serious engineers.
Open-source software extends to creating physical objects, too. PrusaSlicer is a completely open-source tool that allows anyone to create and export print files for 3D printers. They’ve made it compatible with a range of operating systems to be as accessible as possible.
Anyone thinking that open-source has to be small-time only should take a look at Databricks. Although Databricks does supply chargeable data analytics solutions, it also provides various open-source technologies for data managers and engineers. The company was recently valued at a whopping $6 billion.
Open Source and Education
Red Hat is another successful name in the open-source world. They’re a massive provider of open-source technologies, and notably the largest contributor to Linux, a widely-used open-source operating system kernel — literally, the code at the core of the operating system. They believe that open source is perfect for education because:
· It keeps classes or courses current and relevant
· It promotes collaboration
· It encourages a more diverse world outlook
· Teaching kids to manage open source projects provides them with transferable life skills and better career prospects
They go on to talk about computer science and software engineering, but open source for kids doesn’t have to be structured or taught in a formal setting at all. Some popular open-source projects for kids include:
· Using a Raspberry Pi to make BMO from Adventure Time
· Using the open-source programming language Python to create a Dice Rolling Simulator
· Kids can have a go at creating their own apps with Google’s visual open-source drag-and-drop system, Blockly.
The continued rise of open source is inevitable because of how saturated the proprietary software market is. Expensive offerings tend to stagnate and become dated, or offer clunky yearly upgrades, whereas the open-source community is always expanding and throwing out fresh ideas.
Open source also comes from a place of kindness, creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. The next generation is already showing a great awareness of social justice and acceptance of the wonderful diversity in our world. Opening their eyes to open-source coding and software opportunities helps cement the possibility that we can create a better world by working together for common goals.
Girls Into Coding promotes peer-to-peer learning aimed at encouraging girls in tech and girls in STEM to give them the tools to become the leading women in tech of tomorrow.