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Open Source Software


Do you like free stuff? Well I am sure you would enjoy not paying for the software that is on your computer, that would make buying a computer easier and cheaper. That is open source in action. What is open source? Better yet what is source? The source is the source code to a program; it is like the blueprints for a house. On a web page you can right mouse click and select view source and you will be able to see the source of that web page. Unfortunately this cannot be said the same for software. Either software is open source or closed/proprietary. What is open source? A piece of software where you can view the source of the program, for free, for a program to be open source it must meet the qualifications of The Open Source Definition. Some examples of open source software are Linux, Emacs, Apache, Netscape, X11, Samba, and others. Closed source/proprietary software is software that is most likely not free, only a select few can see the source. Some examples of closed source/proprietary software are Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Cisco IOS, Internet Explorer, Winamp, PowerDVD, and others. Making that piece of software the best it can be. My thesis is that open source software is better than proprietary software, and I will give reasons why you and others should make the switch to open source software. My arguments will be privacy/security, business, and general benefits.

The starting of the Open source software revolution could be traced back to a man named Richard Stallman. Richard Stallman worked for the Artificial Intelligence Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971, he worked on programming the a timesharing program. When the University bought a new server in 1982, the administration of the university decided to use Digital's proprietary piece of software instead of ITS which was developed by the university hackers. That got Richard Stallman upset, but when a person at the lab did not release the source code (see glossary) that really got him angry. So he quit in 1984 and worked on GNU (GNU is Not UNIX). He wrote the GNU Manifesto which is available here: http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html, this is what he still goes by ("The GNU Project"). So along came Mr. Stallman going about speaking and he happened to go to the University of Helsinki, where Linus Trovalds was attending as a student. He heard Mr. Stallman and liked what he heard, so when he created his Operating System or OS, he licensed it under Mr. Stallman's license called the General Public License. This was the start of a revelation because many people did not see an OS for free, so many people downloaded it and looked at it. This spread like a wildfire, which will bring us to Febuary 3rd, 1998 at Palo Alto, California where Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson, John "maddog" Hall and Larry Augustin, Sam Ockman, and Eric Raymond are all brought together to discuss Netscape's releasing of the source. They had to come up with a label for this kind of software for business people so they came up with "Open source," contributed by Chris Peterson. Soon after the famous Linus Trovalds approved, they got Bruce Perens to get involved early, offering to trademark "open source" and host this web site [opensource.org]. The Open Source Definition is derived from the Debian Free Software Guidelines, but was changed to better suit the organization ("History of the OSI"). That brings us here to where the tech giant, Microsoft, is up against a free product and losing.

Privacy is important to most people, I know I value privacy that is why I close my blinds when I change clothes and why I shower with the door closed, and why we have privacy windows. Would you like it if your window blinds where left open all day long? Would you like it if I could find out what phone numbers you call on your cell phone? What if your personal information was being transmitted over the internet, with the risk of attackers intercepting that information on its way to a company, all this without you being told that it was happening information such as what websites you go to and what movies/songs you have watched/listened too? Would you like it if a company had this information and had the chance of selling it to other companies for lots of money? Then the question comes up. Privacy, how much is it worth? What if you could get that secure feeling for free? With open source software you can see what the maker of the software is trying to do. Even if you don't understand the code there will be someone out there that does and he or she will report that to other people and word will be out that that person is trying to do something wrong. My argument is that making software open source is better for the user’s privacy.

With Windows XP's new Windows Media Player, which is built in and cannot be removed, sends what DVD movie titles are being played to Microsoft ("Serious privacy problems in Windows Media Player for Windows XP"). Not only that but it keeps a log of what movies have been played, on the hard drive which cannot be removed. This was intentional, its not like it could happen by accident. There is no way of getting rid of this "feature" instead users are forced to deal with it. Users were never notified of this until Richard M. Smith found this. This and possibly more lurk inside Windows, and it is not only Windows it is many other proprietary products. The only people that know are the developers. There is a solution to this, make the software open source. We don't even know if Microsoft's Internet Explorer is sending information about which websites you visit, or whether it is making advertisements pop-up.

My argument is that open source software is more secure than closed source. The reason why open source is more secure than closed source is because other programmers can see the vulnerabilities, rather than only allowing paid programmers to see the source. These websites are www.google.com, redhat.com, amazon.com, yahoo.com, qwest.net, geocities.com and many more (“What's that site running results”). Sites like hotmail.com, microsoft.com ("Microsoft.com Running on Linux"), and msn.com ("Open-source Apache encroaches on Microsoft") say that they run Windows and IIS but other results(noted beside each site.) prove differently. The company's Hotmail free e-mail service for years used the FreeBSD operating system and the Apache Web server, both leading open source programs. Microsoft believes in "security through obscurity" ("The Microsoft Way: Security Through Obscurity") even though security expert Bruce Perens along with many others agree that security through obscurity does not work very well at all ("Why Security-Through-Obscurity Won't Work"). I will be comparing the vulnerabilities through the year of 2000. The opponents will be Windows NT/2000 (because they are the same thing) and Debian/GNU Linux 2.2. Windows NT/2000 had over ninety-seven vulnerabilities ("SecurityFocus Vulns Stats") not including the 73,553+ virus' that Sophos has so far identified ("73,553 and counting..."). Compared to Debian/GNU Linux with only fifty-five vulnerabilities. This comparison is still unfair because they included vulnerabilities of packages (see glossary) that were optional, games and other tools, and did not include the vulnerabilities of software that is not optional in Windows like Internet Explorer, Windows media player, Outlook Express. 

Making money is not easy when your product is free, but yet companies still flourish by doing this. Making money is the essence of business if a company is not making money it is not invested in and people don't make money. I will show how these companies like Red Hat, VA Software, IBM, Netscape, and many more. You can have a product that is open source and still make money. My argument is that businesses can make their software open source and still profit from it.

Red Hat Linux is the leading Linux Distribution, they offer their distribution for free and for a price, here is how. The GPL states that you can sell the product as long as you still offer the product for free some how some way. You can buy their product and you will get all the documentation in printed form, free support if you need it for thirty days, and the CDROM's for the install and Sun Star Office 5.2 ("Red Hat Linux 7.3 Personal"). This way they still make money off of those who do not have a CD-RW drive or have dial-up and it will take too long for them to download or maybe people just want the support and documentation. Red Hat makes money by selling the packages and by selling support. They will give you tech support if your server goes down. In 1989 Berkeley Computer Systems Research Group came out with Networking release 1 it was the TCP/IP protocols together for UNIX machines. They decided to sell it, the license they came up with was very unique, if you paid the $1,000 for the source you could do whatever you wanted with it (Wayner, 43-44). Kirk McKusick shares how he felt when they did this “We thought that two groups would pay the money and then put the code on the Internet, but in fact, hundreds of sites actually paid the $1,000 for it, mostly so they could get a piece of paper from the university saying you can do whatever you want with this (Wayner, 44)”. Even Microsoft reported that their competitor, an open source, software called Linux, was outselling them ("Linux is outselling Windows 98, says Microsoft"). Another solution a company could do is to just give out the source like Netscape did in 1998 and release the source for their web browser ("Press Release"). The company is still growing and is still an open source company. VA Software is the leading Open Source software company, providing free services to open source developers via SourceForge.net. SourceForge provides free project hosting for any open source project ("Open Source software"). But how VA Software makes money is by selling SourceForge to companies, SourceForge is a web-based application that combines development tools with real-time metrics reporting ("Functionality"). Companies put the SourceForge software on their private server for their programmers to use SourceForge.

There are many ways that open source software benefits people. My argument will be that open source software benefits us all in some way or another. One way is that programmers can better develop software. This is because the developers can look at the source and take bits and pieces of the source to develop their own programs. This would produce better software which brings up another benefit of open source software, it produces better programs. Programs have the chance to be seen by experts in programming which will evolve the software to be better that is why they established the website opensource.org ("Open Source Initiative (OSI)"). Programmers can cannibalize other programs to form their own programs, in turn they will learn more and possibly improve the program that the programmer used. John Ousterhout creator of tcl a programming graphics toolkit says that open source produces better software ("John Ousterhout: Building a Business Around Open Source, Part 1"). One way this can be observed is to look at Linux, at first it was made as a fun project, and now it has developed into an operating system that is used by NASA to operate high tech and high priced machinery. Another advantage of open source software is, that the software lasts longer. If two programs were to be released now, one open source, the other closed/proprietary, and not be modified for ten years the open source would still be used and the closed/proprietary will have been long forgotten ("Advantages of open source software"). Open source software is used more widely than closed source; Debian has reported 8710 packages of open source software ("What is Debian?"). Sourceforge is currently, as of October 3rd, 2002, hosting 48,331 projects and the number still grows and having 490,414 Registered Users ("SourceForge.net Statistics"). That means that there will probably be more support for a piece of open source software. 

I will be concluding this paper with a restatement of each argument with the highlights and restate the point for each. Concluding the security/privacy argument I will highlight what was stated. Open source software gives users more privacy by not allowing the programmer to pull a fast one on the customer like Microsoft did without first notifying the costumers. Making the software open source will solve this problem by letting the users know what is happening. Open source software produces more secure software, comparing the vulnerabilities with Microsoft Windows NT/2000 and Debian/GNU Linux "Potato" 2.2, this presented clear data that cannot be disputed. The data showing that Debian/GNU Linux had far fewer vulnerabilities than Microsoft Windows, and even giving Windows a handicap by not counting the non optional vulnerabilities and virus's. Open source software will reduce this problem by letting thousands of programmers view the source, and reducing the amount of vulnerabilities by giving the programmers the ability to change the source if there is a vulnerability that was over looked. Concluding the business argument I will highlight the points made. Red Hat still makes money by selling Linux even though it must offer the product it sells for free. BCSR Group sold Networking Release 1 for $1,000 and you could do anything with it after you bought it, people bought many copies. VA Software does a good job of selling its services and making money at the same time. Making software open source will reduce or eliminate the cost of software for consumers, which will make computers bundled with software cheaper, which would stimulate the economy. This would also reduce the amount of programmers needed to work on that project because other people that do not work for you will be doing it for free. A company that does release the source code for its main program can still make money. Concluding the general benefits of open source argument I will quickly highlight the points made. Open source software is easier to develop better software. Open source software develops better software. Open source software lasts longer than closed source. There is lots of open source pieces of software, and it is very popular. 

Works Cited:

"73,553 and counting.…"
     <www.itp.net/news/102066922551739.htm>.

"Advantages of open source software." Free Software / Open Source: Information
    Society Opportunities for Europe?.
     <http://eu.conecta.it/paper/Advantages_open_source_soft.html>.

"Functionality." VA Software: Product FAQ.
     <http://www.vasoftware.com/products/faq.php>.

"History of the OSI." Open Source Initiative OSI - OSI History:Documents.
     <http://www.opensource.org/docs/history.php>.

"John Ousterhout: Building a Business Around Open Source, Part 1." TechNet Cast Play.
     <http://technetcast.ddj.com/tnc_play_stream.html?stream_id=35>.

"Linux is outselling Windows 98, says Microsoft." The Register.
     <http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/4739.html>.

"Microsoft.com Running on Linux."
     <http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=4962>.

"Open-source Apache encroaches on Microsoft."
     <http://news.com.com/2100-1001-228531.html?tag=rn>.

"Open Source Initiative (OSI)."
     <http://www.opensource.org>.

"Open Source software." SourceForge.net: About SourceForge.net.
     <http://sourceforge.net/docman/display_doc.php?docid=6025&group_id=1>.

"Press Release."
     <http://wp.netscape.com/newsref/pr/newsrelease558.html>.

"Red Hat Linux 7.3 Personal." 
     <http://www.redhat.com/software/linux/personal/>.

"SourceForge.net Statistics." SourceForge.net: Welcome.
     <http://www.sourceforge.net>

"SecurityFocus Vulns Stats."
     <http://securityfocus.com/vulns/stats.html>.

"Serious privacy problems in Windows Media Player for Windows XP."
     <http://www.computerbytesman.com/privacy/wmp8dvd.htm>.

"The Microsoft Way: Security Through Obscurity."
     <http://www.makeitsimple.com/article.php?sid=149>.

"The GNU Project." The GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF).
     <http://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html>.

Wayner, Peter. Free for All. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

"What is Debian?." Debian GNU/Linux -- The Universal Operating System.
     <http://www.debian.org>

"What's that site running results." 
     <http://uptime.netcraft.com/up/graph/>.

"Why Security-Through-Obscurity Won't Work." Feature:Security Through Obscurity.
     <http://slashdot.org/features/980720/0819202.shtml>.


Glossary
Libraries – In programming you need to tell the machine what to do, you do this using libraries. When the machine does not know what to do it will look to on of those libraries to find out 
Linux- For more information go to: www.linux.org
Operating System – The operating system is the middleman between you and your computer if you have no operating system you cannot use your computer, it is “lifeless”. It makes life easier by letting you learn how to use the operating system instead of inputting 1’s and 0’s (binary AKA machine language) Examples of operating systems Windows, Mac OS, DOS, Linux, UNIX
Packages are pieces of software that is not required for the operating system to function things like X11, Samba, GNOME, Emacs, Libraries. They are similar to Window’s .exe software install programs they are easier to install than tar balls with make files.
Source code - When a program is written it is made in a programming language, this programming language can only be read by humans. So it must go through a complier which translates it to the machines language, (the complier is a translator and optimizer) the source code is highly valued by programmers because it tells them how the program was made. Think of it as blue prints for a house.