It would be an understatement to say that the free and open source software movement has had a tremendous impact on the world of IT. Powering everything from most of the world's servers and smart-phones, to continually making inroads into government and the enterprise. Little by little, the world is understanding and embracing the value of open source. Everything from the development model, to the thinking behind it?and perhaps most importantly?its end products, has had a tremendous influence not just within IT, but on knowledge management, collaboration, education, information security and many other realms.
If you have ever suffered the frustration of converting Microsoft Office or similar formatted documents into open formats, then you will understand how a great deal of closed-source software presents hurdles to interoperability. The frustration of not having control over your own data can make you realise how easy it would be for a proprietary software vendor to one day pull the plug and make all of your digital assets obsolete. Of course it would be wrong to paint all such vendors with the same brush?some certainly appreciate the importance of interoperability?but the issue of overall control remains unsatisfactory.
I think that Open Source can do better, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it's not a crusade ? it's just a superior way of working together and generating code. It's superior because it's a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier (no silly NDA's or artificial barriers to innovation like in a proprietary setting), and I think Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous knowledge, without some silly hiding. But I don't think you need to think that alchemy is "evil." It's just pointless because you can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific methods.
With open source software you are free to customise the code to your liking, either on your own, with the help of developers, or the community as a whole. It's a development model which owes a great deal to the birth of the Internet and the resulting ability to collaborate so effortlessly across boundaries and timezones.
Having good collaboration skills also goes hand in hand with being a part of the open source community. Of course there are occasional hiccups and disagreements, but to develop code, test, write and submit bug reports, put together supporting documentation and translations, especially on larger projects, would be practically impossible without the willingness and ability to be a good collaborator.
While there are plenty of books and other text based resources out there to help you better understand free and open source software, a visual guide is always more appealing. One of the best visual presentations is by Martin Owens, who has generously made it available under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Share Alike 3.0 license. You can view and download the guide below:
Photo: John Martinez Pavliga
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