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Tech Notes: Open source projects

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

I've got an uncle who loves to play a World War One flight simulation game. He says that what makes this game so great is that six months after it was released, the game's code was posted on the Internet by the company who produced it, allowing people to add onto the game. Three years after its release, new items such as planes, paint jobs, and ground vehicles are still being added almost every day. My uncle says the game is much more interesting now then the original was, because thousands of people have each contributed a small piece, building in detail that never would have been possible if the company had kept the game to itself. Projects such as this one follow what is called an open source model of development. This means that people are free to use, change, and redistribute these products as long as they are willing to share what they have made with anyone who is interested. The idea of companies opening their copyrighted material to everyone is causing a revolution in the software world. The Linux operating system is the best known open source project. Linus Torvalds spent about a year in his basement designing this system which he then distributed for free on the Internet. The rules were simple: use the software and make improvements to it, but post them back onto the Internet so that others can use them as well. By the latest estimates, over 18 million people are now using Linux as their computer's operating system. As the success of the open source model has been proven over the last several years, many other companies and projects have been drawn to it. Wikipedia is a huge and growing online encyclopedia which anyone can submit articles to. Gutenberg.net, a website offering over 10 thousand free books for download, relies on volunteers to first type in books, and a second group of editors to ensure the books were entered correctly. Other examples of open source projects include the compiling of university textbooks, solving crimes, and compiling up to unlimited decimal places. Working on projects such as these is what the Internet should be all about; people from around the globe contributing their time and energy to a common goal. Contrary to the business model where companies keep information (and profits) to themselves, open source projects require people to work collaboratively to solve problems. The results many of these projects achieve has been astounding. The Wikipedia website gets more hits a month than Britannica.com, Microsoft has said that Linux is the largest challenge their business faces, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has compiled a list of websites where people can go to download everything they need for their computers, from word processing and spreadsheet software, to games; all for free. The open source movement is powerful, and growing, because through it, we can see that it is possible for people around the globe to work together for something other than profit.