Ask just about any person you meet whether they are using open source software (OSS) and the chances are good you will be met by a blank stare. Yet, people might be surprised when you tell them that they are either using it on the mobile device they own or on their social media platform of choice.
The growth of Android and the popularity of sites like Google, LinkedIn and Twitter all mean that people have come to rely on OSS in some way in their daily lives. But, does this even matter? Well, it depends on who you speak to.
Proponents of proprietary software might say the growth of OSS is simply the result of coming off a very low base and that the majority of technology users still feel more comfortable in living their connected lives on a more ‘closed and stable’ platform.
But the flip side is also true. OSS does not only mean it is the source code that is available for everyone to copy and distribute and change to their heart’s content. Certainly, those who want to program and want to make their own software find a natural calling to OSS.
However, the majority of people do not really care how the software they are using came to be. But think about the concept of collaboration. This has been around for centuries. There is an often used saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it is true even to this day. The power of a community, in whichever shape or form, is essential for the success of anything. If people do not work together, but in isolation of one another, then things will not happen nearly as effectively, and the chances of failure are increased.
Collaborating on things means that people build something together and collectively act better than a single entity. Look at the growth of Android. Part of its success has been its ability to adapt to change much faster than the other proprietary systems, and has seen it become the dominant mobile platform globally.
Not just technology
The concept of open source extends beyond search engines and mobile devices. Today, you can find anything open source, from hardware, aircraft, and even beer. The fact is that people enjoy working together. If the Internet has shown us anything, it is that communities of interest develop around those who share similar tastes and passions. This results in them inevitably starting to do things together to help grow those shared interests.
If you fancy yourself a decent home baker, but want to take your skills to the next level, it is highly unlikely that one of the big multinationals will share some of their trade secrets or recipes with you. However, there are millions of people online doing just that. They are working together and sharing recipes and tips and tricks to enable the specific community to growth through shared knowledge.
And that is what open source is all about. Empowering each of us to develop our skills as individuals through the power of working together. Yes, there might be financial rewards associated to that, but it is not the end goal. By doing something you are passionate about, you are giving yourself the opportunity to enhance and refine that skill and help other people do the same.
So the next time you switch on your phone, or post that message on a social network, take some time to think how a lot of these things would not be possible without OSS.