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The Difference between Open Source and Free Software

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If you are new to tech or software, you may hear a term you are unfamiliar with; open-source. This is a common phrase that is thrown around but seldom understood by those who are new to programming and computers in general. Though all open-source software is free, not all free software is open-source. Here is a brief explanation of free software and open-source software.

Open-Source Software Explained:

The programming community is full of freelance programmers that offer their skills to improve existing software. In order to do so, they must have the source code used to create the programs. For instance, Linux has the largest community of programmers that change, tweak, add to, and improve the Linux operating system distributions.

The reason for this is simple, the source code is offered. All open-source software is not only free, but also allows at home programmers the chance to change the code used to create it. Google Chrome is one of the widely used web browsers available for free download. It is also open-source software that allows you to use their code to create your own browser. Recently it was used to create the RockMelt social browser.

VLC media player, Audacity, an audio editing software, and every distributed operating system under Linux allows users to view the source code, add code, change code, and create their software the way they want it. All open-source software is free for download.

Free Software:

Many programmers offer their software for free, often in the beginning of their programming career as a way to build a reputation. Companies will also often offer a free slimmed down version of commercial software to entice consumers to upgrade to the full version. Though this software is free, it is not open-source. They are free versions of complete software that only offer the installation and functionality of the software, without giving the source code used to create the program.

Though you may be able to use the software without purchasing it, you are limited to only what the software allows you to do. Though free software is always the best option when looking for new programs to try, if you are looking for software you can improve on, change, and customize to fit your needs, open-source is what you need.

Next time you are cruising the internet and see the word open-source, you will now have a better understanding of what exactly it is. If you have a knack for programming and want to offer your skills to a community of software developers, find the right open-source project for you and contribute. Open-source projects can always use more support.

Judith Prince is a tech-savvy freelance writer for audacity download, an open-source audio editor that’s useful for podcasting and music editing.

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