Open source software – what is it?

4 March 2021 by Catalyst

What is open source software?

Open source software has source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.

Source code is the part of the software that developers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works. Developers who have access to a computer program’s source code can improve that program by adding features to it or fixing parts that don’t always work correctly.


The difference between open source software and proprietary software 

Some software has source code that only the person, team, or company who created it—and maintains exclusive control over it—can alter. This type of software is called “proprietary” or “closed source” software.

Only the original authors of proprietary software can legally copy, inspect, and alter that software. And in order to use proprietary software, computer users must agree (usually by signing a license displayed the first time they run this software) that they will not do anything with the software that the software’s authors have not expressly permitted. Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop are examples of proprietary software.

Sharing the source code

Open source software is different. Its authors make its source code available to others who would like to view that code, copy it, learn from it, alter it, or share it. LibreOffice and Firefox are examples of open source software.

 Open source software has a global community of contributors

As they do with proprietary software, users must accept the terms of a license when they use open source software—but the legal terms of open source licenses differ dramatically from those of proprietary licenses.

Open source licenses affect the way people can use, study, modify, and distribute software. In general, open source licenses grant users permission to use open source software for any purpose they wish. 

By design, open source software licenses promote collaboration and sharing because they permit other people to make modifications to source code and incorporate those changes into their own projects. They encourage developers to access, view, and modify open source software whenever they like, as long as they let others do the same when they share their work.

Why companies prefer using open source software 

Companies prefer open source software to proprietary software for a number of reasons, including:


Many people prefer open source software because they have more control . They can examine the code to understand how it works, and  enhance or change parts of it they don’t like. Users who aren’t programmers also benefit from the freedom that open source software provides ,- you can use for any purpose you wish and not be limited to  the way someone else thinks it should be used.


Open source software is known to help people become better programmers. Because open source code is publicly accessible, students can easily study it as they learn to make better software. Students can share their work with others, inviting comment and critique, as they develop their skills. When people discover mistakes in programs’ source code, they can share those mistakes with others to help them avoid making those same mistakes themselves.


Open source software is considered more secure and stable than proprietary software. As anyone can view and modify open source software, people other than the original creators   can spot and correct errors or omissions. This leads to a larger and broader community working on changes and releases , ensuring that vulnerabilities and inefficiencies are responded to faster and more often 


Successful and supported open source projects (like Firefox, Linux and WordPress) grow bigger and better over time. This is partly due to the large communities supporting and contributing to their code. This is important for use in long-term projects and ensuring longevity. As programmers publicly distribute the source code for open source software, other users relying on that software for critical tasks can be sure their tools won’t disappear or fall into disrepair if thei original creators stop working on them – other development teams reliant on the application will continue to support it. In general, the distributed nature and sharing ethos of open source software ensures that your project is still supported even if the organisation that orgininated the application discontinues their involvement.


Open source software often inspires a community of users and developers to form around it, for example the Moodle LMS Community . That’s not unique to open source; many popular applications are the subject of meetups and user groups. But in the case of open source, the community isn’t just a fanbase that buys in (emotionally or financially) to an elite user group; it’s the people who produce, test, use, promote, and ultimately affect the software they love.

Is Open Source technology free of charge?

There is a common misconception about what “open source” implies, and the concept’s implications are not only financial.

            Free access to open source software 

While open source software applications may be free of charge, the third party services associated with implementing, migrating, providing managed services for and undertaking custom design and development are not. 

Services for open source software technology 

 Software engineering team working on on design and development project

There are four main services provided for open source software technologies:

Implementation services 

Starting from scratch? Specialist providers are around to  provide services to install  technology into your business and help you master your platform’s functionality and features to create optimal performance that supports the achievement of your business goals. 

Migration services

Undertaking data migration is often seen as ‘the’ major pain points when it comes to migrating to a new system. At Catalyst, we find that many of our clients are looking to migrate from one learning management system to another, however, they don’t have the knowledge, skills or experience to  plan the approach and execute the plan in a seamless and pain free way. 


Managed services & hosting 

With more and more business critical operations being conducted online, the importance of system availability and scalability are second to none.  The protection of your users, your organisation and your brand is paramount  By employing the skills and experience of a specialist Managed Service Provider (MSP) you can rest assured that you have support to respond to and resolve any issues that arise. 

Custom design and development 

Almost all businesses and their environments are evolving – 2020 definitely taught us a few lessons! With this comes changing requirements of our systems. To remain viable and competitive, many of our clients have found that they need to develop and design new capabilities to support their business, their staff and their users. This task is definitely not part of their day job, so they turn to us to leverage our skills and experience to innovate and reinvigorate their solutions efficiently and effectively. 

Are you looking for support for your open source software applications?