Celebrating the Freedoms of Open Source

As those of us in the United States prepare to celebrate our freedoms with the July 4th holiday, this is a great moment to recognize and celebrate the “freedoms” of Open Source software. 

Open Source Software

Open Source is a type of software that powers a huge part of the internet and many of the systems we rely on and use every day. From Android phones to Linux servers to WordPress and Drupal websites, Open Source software is ubiquitous. In Red Hat’s annual State of Enterprise Open Source report, 90% of Enterprise IT leaders use open source and cite higher quality, pace of innovation, and better security as the top reasons to do so. 

Isn't That Just Great Software?

If Open Source software is higher quality, faster to innovate and more secure, doesn’t that just make it great software? The answer is: Yes*.

And the *asterisk* is all about the fact that you can still create good Closed Source software and bad Open Source software. But, yes, on average, Open Source software is better and that is a major reason it’s taken over the world

Why? The Four Freedoms!

Many of us have had the experience of installing or using software and being prompted to agree to a REALLY long list of terms and conditions. Many times those conditions are pretty egregious; some examples include that you agree to be monitored, that you can’t criticize them publicly, that you can’t sue the authors if it breaks, and it goes on and on.

Open Source software has a very different license agreement. And while there are many different specific licenses, they all share some fundamental freedoms. These freedoms are essentially a bill of rights for Open Source software users. Combined, they provide a framework that makes it more likely to produce better software, much like a bill of rights gives the citizens of a country more opportunity for a better society. 

The specifics of how these freedoms are worded can also vary. I’m using the WordPress language here as I think it does a good job of being understandable. 

The 1st Freedom: To run the program for any purpose

This freedom is analogous to the freedom of Free Speech. When you use Open Source software, it’s yours to use how you would like. No-one can take it from you, tell you that you’re not allowed to use it that way or otherwise take it back from you.

The 2nd Freedom: To study how the program works and change it to make it do what you wish

This is the freedom to make improvements. There’s often a saying in Open Source software that it’s made by scratching your own itch. In the real world, people making open source software often have a specific problem to solve. When the people who have a problem are also able to contribute to the solution, the software is likely to work and be effective. When lots of people come together around a specific project and are able to use it to solve many problems, that’s the foundation for powerful software and a community of people working together to keep making it better. 

The 3rd Freedom: To redistribute

This deceptively simple statement is powerful. It means that you own the software fully and can share it forward. Not only do you have all these freedoms, but you also have the right to share the software (and these freedoms) with others. 

The 4th Freedom: To distribute copies of your modified versions to others

This fourth freedom is sometimes called the freedom to fork. If you make the software better in some way, those improvements inherit the rest of these freedoms and you can share them forward with others as well.

If you want to read more about these freedoms, two great resources I’d recommend are The Free Software Definition and The Open Source Definition (Annotated).

Open Source in the Real World

All of this may feel abstract and far removed from the problems many of us try to solve on a daily basis. At Pantheon, we seek out partners like Americaneagle.com for their expertise in providing digital marketing solutions to address things like ecommerce, conversion rates, speed, ROI, digital governance, and more. 

Better is Better

While it is possible to build good closed-source solutions and bad open-source ones, on average, Open Source software is higher quality, faster to innovate, and more secure than the alternatives. In fact, WordPress and Drupal are open source solutions that together power nearly 45% of all websites today. And, when implemented in the right use cases, they have proven themselves to be superior solutions and should absolutely be on your short list as the right tool for your next digital project. 

Trusted is Better

In a world filled with providers of Open Source solutions, it’s absolutely essential to pick the right partner. With a long history of successful clients and projects and a global team, Americaneagle.com stands out from their competitors. And, not only do they have the expertise internally to solve your problems with Open Source solutions like WordPress and Drupal, they’ve also built partnerships with leading infrastructure providers like Pantheon

Celebrate Your Freedoms!

We hope you have the chance to celebrate the freedoms you enjoy as a citizen this weekend. And while software freedoms may not be top-of-mind for you as you do so, we also hope you’ll appreciate these freedoms as well.

This blog post was contributed by Drew Gorton, Director of Developer Relations at Pantheon, an Americaneagle.com partner.

Drew Gorton leads the Developer Relations team at Pantheon. He works with developers from all over the world, sharing best practices and helping them improve and get the most out of Pantheon and the Open Source tools we all share.

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