If you were in High School during the 2000’s and had access to the internet then you might’ve heard of sites like Limewire, Bearshare, Frostwire, and The Piratebay. These sites were always hush hush and more often than not infected our computers so much that IT guys would have to constantly reload Windows XP.

Being a child and not having money meant that if you wanted to have your favourite music you’d need to leave the computer on all night and hope no one needed to use the phone. Those I dare say, readers were dark times.

I hate to break it to you if you didn’t already know it, but that sharing of music, games, videos and weird gifs was quite illegal. Companies, individuals, groups, business and other enterprises protect their creations through a plethora of Intellectual property tools. Of course, the advent of the internet exacerbated things and created unique problems that these entities responded to in some cases swiftly and in others quite clumsily. The short version of it is that most companies and individuals prefer to license you their product rather than give it away for free. If you run Windows OS check the Eula (End User Agreement) and you’ll see at that you don’t technically own your  Windows 10, you rent it.

What is Open Source?

Quite a few schools of thought exist about the protection of a creator’s intellectual property rights and your ability to dispose of the thing that you bought. Unfortunately, I’m not a competent authority on the subject or this an article on these schools of thought and their interplay in 2017.  You can read more about that kind of stuff right here!

What I would like to point out to you is that there is quite a bit of free stuff out there that you can download, modify, share and in some cases, sell.

This, however, is an oversimplification. Generally, Open source means that the creator agrees to give to the readers/viewers/consumers of their product the ability to use/modify/distribute/re-engineer/reverse engineer or tweak their product, subject to the license. The specifics of the licenses vary quite a bit but that’s the nuts and bolts of the open source philosophy. It’s not just about sharing the source code! Open source can be applied to lots of different projects.

Why is Open Source Important and Why Should I care about it?

  1. Open Source fosters innovation and it runs everything! – One of the greatest benefits of using and distributing open source is that it allows the users to modify the original to their heart’s content. The end result? Open Source products are often improved constantly by very dedicated communities of persons and not companies.Open source innovation has been leading the tech world for years in products and inventions you’d least suspect if you weren’t a bit of a geek.A few examples of this are: The Linux Kernel; Apache Web Server; MYSQL; Android; Opendaylight; fd.io; and I could really go on for days. If your geek sensors haven’t gone off yet you should know that most of the internet is served by some kind of open source software.
  2. Open Source provides lost cost solutions – Free distribution of software means that its a lot easier to realize the promise of the application service provider model. This model has been around for a while but has never really delivered – until now. Because open source infrastructure is cheap (no licensing fees, either for the server or client access), readily available and massively scalable, it is possible to use it as a base for low-cost services delivered over the internet.Many companies are taking this approach: 37signals, Friendster, Photobox and Evite are some successful examples. These companies are relying on a commodity market (lots of customers at low prices) to make their business pay off.
  3. Avoiding Vendor Lock-In – My favourite thing about running open source software is that I can tweak it in just about any way I want without worrying about some corporate overlord trying to sue me for my customization or for my lack thereof. If you run Windows, you might have been prompted to upgrade to Windows 10 so much so that your computer upgraded you regardless of how you felt about upgrading. This just isn’t the case with open source. You can remove, any part of a truly open source project that doesn’t’ suit your needs and replace it with whatever else you need for your project.Read about Windows facing potential lawsuits for forced upgrades here! 
  4. Billion Dollar Companies support Open Source – The bit above about companies and persons trying their absolute best to profit off of leasing stuff to you is true. However, loads of companies are pouring millions into open source projects. Facebook, Microsoft, Google/Alphabet just to name a few conglomerates to contribute to the development of open source.Their contributions aren’t software oriented in the strictest sense. Github’s stats reveal that there are quite a few areas including financial and business services that make up the majority of contributions by conglomerates and individuals alike.  Full stats here!

How can you contribute to the Open Source movement?

The easiest way to contribute is by spreading awareness. Most people have no idea what their licences say and are quite shocked when they find out that they don’t own something that they bought. Use open source innovation, technology, software and tools wherever possible. Contribute to projects that you love or contribute by giving them a dollar if you can afford it. Encourage persons to try open source versions of software they use e.g. using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer or Vlc Player instead of Windows Media Player.

Of Course, there’s also this list of ways that you can contribute to open source that you can view right here!

Ron Motilall is a Linux user and a huge technology enthusiast. He graduated with a LLB in Law from the University of Guyana and believes the late 90’s was the most important period for human innovation. Ron describes himself as a learner and teacher with extensive knowledge about open source technology and its role in changing innovation, you can read more of his articles here.