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The phrase open-source is short for open-source software (OSS). Open-source software is software shared or distributed with a license that allows the end user free access to the source code. This means that the end user can modify the source code, with the stipulation that such modifications are — like the original source code — made freely available to others. “Freely available” does not always mean that the software itself is free, but this is often the case. Open-source companies are software companies that develop open-source software, though the software is also created by communities of volunteers.
Proponents of open-source software — and this includes open-source companies — usually share some beliefs about software development, and these guide how they operate. For one thing, many think that the end user should be able to see and make changes to the source code if he or she encounters a problem or bug. In addition, they often see the end user as someone who may — with his or her unique perspective, skills, and talents — add to the software in a way that makes it more valuable for others, as well as him- or herself.
Open-source companies create software of many different types. RedHat® is perhaps the best known for its association with the operating system Linux. DotNetNuke™ stewards the DotNetNuke open-source web content management platform project for Microsoft® .NET. The word steward is meant to suggest the unique role that a company plays in the management of software that was developed by a community and has an open-source license. Marketcetera® is a company and a product, which is an open-source Automated Trading Platform. Untangle® offers a suite of open-source Internet-management applications for small businesses, included spyware, phishing, and virus protection, a firewall, and Virtual Private Network.
It can be argued that even companies that are not fundamentally built around open-source software can be considered open-source companies if any portion of the company’s business is conducted that way. Increasingly, companies with proprietary products are releasing open-source products as well. IBM®, Sun Microsystems®, and Google® are established examples, and the field is growing.