The world of ‘open source’ software got a boost last week when the UK government announced its plans to make greater use of its products.
Open source software refers to computer programs that have ‘open’ code. This means that anyone with a knowledge of programming can download the source code and add their own tweaks and improvements. The end result is programs that have been worked on by potentially thousands of people, adding their creativity. Among the best known examples are Mozilla’s Firefox browser, OpenOffice, and the Linux operating system.
This community based software is usually available free of charge, and without the complicated copyright permissions of normal software. As you will be aware if you’ve had to buy Windows or Microsoft Office, even everyday programs can be very expensive. You can imagine the cost of keeping the government in software updates – switching to open source programs may save the taxpayer up to £600 million a year.
I’m a big fan of open source, as it makes the tools of computing available to those who could not afford them otherwise. Computers may be coming down in price, but software has remained expensive, monopolised by certain large companies who shall remain nameless. For the developing world in particular, open source makes a big difference, and government endorsement is good news.