To give you a short pitch on the importance of open source software let me place three well known names in front of you. They are – Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, and Linux.
Can anybody deny that these three (among many others) have not only changed the way we do our computing, but they have also become game changers?
That’s a huge dent in our mind space which otherwise is dominated by products from Microsoft and Apple.
These three are flag bearers of the open source software movement. Many others are running alongside (Apache Web Server, Symbian OS, OpenOffice, Arduino etc). Heading back to Wikipedia, we come to understand that the thinking on open source had existed since long before the internet gave the word a place in the dictionary.
Here we will talk about open source software. That’s any program or application that makes its source code freely available for use or alteration as others see fit. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty, check out what the guardians of the open source philosophy have to say at the Open Source Initiative.
Open source software is different from free software. But at the user level, for the layman, this distinction assumes less importance. Open source allows you to rewrite the code if you want to; free software does not and it comes with certain rights for the developer.
Most times, open source software is the seed for free software. So let’s check out what’s happening in the open source community. And as we look at these eight open source websites, let’s believe in Linus Torvalds’ vision – “the future is open source everything…”
You will find a mention of it in our archives as one of the better professional sample code websites for programmers. It is its bookmark worthy quality that takes it to the top of any list of open source projects. It is the world’s largest open source software development website. The sheer numbers – 2 million registered users and 230,000 software projects say that aloud.
For a developer, it is the Mecca with its range of tools that covers hosting, software support (trackers, forums, mailing lists, etc), distribution tools, and finally the help of a large community to fall back on.
As a downloader, you can browse through the software categories, or select using the most popular or most active tags.
Codeplex is Microsoft’s open source project hosting website. It has a large concentration of projects built around .Net. It also hosts a few projects which have non-open source licenses attached to them. Codeplex allows shared development in one project.
Support is provided with tools like a proprietary Codeplex source control software, wikis, and discussion boards. As of January, 2010, the site hosts nearly 13,000 projects.
Google Code is a repository for Google’s APIs of its various products such as Google Maps, Google Earth, AdSense, Adwords, Google Apps and YouTube. Currently the site hosts nearly 250,000 open source projects.
You can download open source code and patches. Google Code has unique features like a mentoring program for university students (Google Summer of Code) and the Google Code University where students can learn new developments in technology.
In their own words, Freshmeat has the web’s largest index of UNIX and cross-platform software, themes and related ‘eye-candy’, and handheld devices software. Mac users can find nearly 3,600+ projects related to their OS. Users can keep track of what’s new in Linux and UNIX by browsing through the nicely tagged projects. The articles on new software developments also keep users in the know. Freshmeat is owned by Geeknet, which also has Sourceforge.net in its lineup.
OS Living is a neat collection house of open source software covering all major OS. The site has three areas – Archive, Community and Sourced. The Archive is the searchable index of open source software that is contributed by the open source developers. The Community is the forum where open source fans thrash out their ideas. Sourced is more like a blog bringing you news, views and updates from the world of open source.
Geeknet seems to have a lot of fingers in the open source pie as this is another community style website from their stable. With the important difference that Ohloh does not host open source projects. It is more like a public directory of the open source community and the software they develop.
Ohloh also has some tools which can be used to map out the trends in the open source universe. You can compare projects and measure the amount of activity that project is having. For example, you can see which language is the most popular in open source development. Also like a social site, you can follow developers whose work you are interested in.
The tagline of this web resource reads – Open Source Software Engineering Tools. It has a few concentrated categories mostly around software development. The software may not be really useful for the average user, but computer students can find a lot of niche tools and reusable code in the categories mentioned.
The Free Software Directory is a project of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and UNESCO. It is a categorized index of free software that runs on free operating systems (GNU and Linux). FSD advocates the use of free software and through its activities seeks to counter restrictive policies such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).
There is no free lunch; so goes the popular saying. The abundant availability of free and open source software thankfully belies the fact. Just imagine a world where open source did not exist. It would have been such a narrow existence.
Are you a devotee of open source software? Pitch in your vote in the comments.