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Overview of the Open-Source Movement

Copyright © 2000 by R. E. Wyllys


What is the Open Source movement?

Briefly, it is a world-wide movement composed, both formally and informally, of many people who feel that the best way to produce software that will be sophisticated, robust, and (relatively) bug-free is to enlist the cooperation of interested, skilled, altruistic programmers who are willing to work for free, inspired by the twin goals of producing high-quality programs and of working cooperatively with other similarly minded people.

The best known example of software coming out of the Open Source movement is probably Linux, but there are other important examples, including:

  • Apache, the program that runs over 50% of the Web servers in the world;
  • perl, a very widely used language for implementing interactive Webpages; and
  • BIND, the program that supports the Domain Name Service (DNS), by means of which your browser can find the physical locations of the Webpages you seek.

Suffice it to say that the Open Source movement is an active and vital part of the software scene in the world today. Informally, thousands of programmers around the world support it by participating in the maintenance and updating of various pieces of software. Formally, the movement has come to be spearheaded by an organization named the Open Source Inititiative, a nonprofit association based in California that owns the trademark, "Open Source."

Unfortunately, the obvious abbreviation of the Open Source Initiative, OSI, is also that of the Open Systems Initiative, which can easily lead to situations in which it is not clear what the referent of the abbreviation is. In this discussion, I use "OSI" only to abbreviate "Open Source Inititiative."

Formal Definition

The OSI has developed a formal definition of the movement at a Webpage called "The Open Source Definition." You need to read, in detail, both the formal definitions of each of the nine criteria on that Webpage and also the hyperlinked rationale for each criterion. The rationales are quite illuminating.

Reasons Why the Open-Source Movement is Worth Supporting

You should also follow up on, and read, what the top page of the OSI Website calls "several complementary views of the open-source phemonenon. You can read a brief introduction, a techie/hacker's case, a businessperson's case, and a customer's case." The top page asks a further question, "Still not convinced? Then read some third-party case studies," and I strongly recommend your reading several of these case studies.

Further Information about the OSI

Finally, you should read the OSI Website's "brief history of the open-source concept" and the "page answering Frequently Asked Questions," both of which contain information of which you should be aware.


The open-source movement is still quite young, but it holds a great deal of promise for the future development of software. I confidently predict that you will hear much more about open-source software as you pursue your careers in library and information science.

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Last updated 5 February 2001 by Don Drumtra