An open source application is a software product in which the code used to write it is available to all, and may be improved and distributed freely. Though most may be familiar with open source applications that are available for Windows® based systems, software is available over a wide variety of platforms including Mactintosh® and Linux® systems. Though most will never try to improve an open source application because they are simply looking for a cheaper alternative to traditional software, those who do so often feel a sense of pride and obligation to the computing community.
The main purpose of an open source application is to provide a platform where other programmers can try to improve a software product. In short, it is an academic exercise more than a financial one. Though the functionality is an important part of the process, and many people may use it for its intended function, the main goal remains to write a better program than the one currently in use.
Finding an open source application often involves going to a Web site that deals specifically with open source software. Some larger applications that have attracted a following will also have their own Web sites. Once found, users can download the program, make their desired changes, and then re-post it back to the forum where it was originally found. The original author will often stay involved in the project, incorporating the changes he or she likes, and disregarding the ones that are not liked.
One of the biggest misconceptions about open source applications is that they are all free to download. Open source is not the same as freeware, or even shareware. While the vast majority of applications are available at no charge, there are some that do require, or at least suggest, making a payment. Most of these are available on an honor system, where the open source application can still be used even if there is no payment rendered.
As with any software application, it is up to the individual user to closely examine the terms and conditions associated with the software. Some may be available for personal use without requiring payment. If the usage ever becomes commercial, payment may then be required. Those who are found in violation of the user agreement may be subject to civil penalties.
Though many appreciate the discounted or free cost of the software, open source applications are often criticized because of their quality issues. Despite this reputation, some open source applications have been very well received and are noted for their quality. Among the most popular of these are the Firefox® internet browser and the Linux® operating system. Some may even prefer these applications to their larger commercial competitors.