Open Source Software

Senator Ron Wyden and Senator John Ensign invite you to join them for a discussion on the history and policy implications of the open source and commercial software development models.

Open source software refers to freely distributed software that includes the underlying code, which allows the user to adapt the program to suit his needs. An example of this type of software is the Linux operating system or the Apache web server. This stands beside the traditional commercial model that limits distribution and modification of the underlying code, such as is the case with Microsoft’s Windows, IBM’s Websphere, Adobe’s Acrobat and McAfee anti-virus. There are similarities, advantages and disadvantages to both methods of software development, and each is under pressure today from criminal hackers. Further, the debate is not necessarily open source versus commercial as there are gray areas in between and even certain companies offering both options for different applications. In addition, some governments are considering software “procurement preferences” based upon the development model.

The availability and use of open source software have continued to increase as new applications are developed for the internet. Open source software presents important implications regarding software and business method patents. Together with a lack of patent protection and proprietary ownership normally associated with the ownership of intellectual property rights, open source software offers practical accessibility to encourage peer production development of software applications through public collaboration. The transparency of the software development process and the absence of restrictions normally imposed by intellectual property protection are appealing to a growing number of software developers.

Regardless, the growth and pervasiveness of open source software in operating systems, servers and web applications make understanding this phenomenon critically important for anyone with an interest in information technology and its impact on the economy in general.