SaaS Terms Explained: Open Source Software (OSS)

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SaaS Terms Explained: Open Source Software (OSS)

Get SigmaOS Free

It's free and super easy to set up

SaaS Terms Explained: Open Source Software (OSS)

Get SigmaOS Free

It's free and super easy to set up

SaaS Terms Explained: Open Source Software (OSS)

As businesses continue to explore software as a service (SaaS) options, it’s important to understand the key terms and concepts that shape the software landscape. Open source software (OSS) is one such concept that’s worth exploring, as it offers businesses an alternative approach to software development, licensing, and use. In this article, we’ll explore the definition, history, benefits, and popular examples of OSS, as well as compare it to proprietary software.

Understanding Open Source Software (OSS)

Definition of Open Source Software

In simple terms, OSS is software that releases its source code to the public for use, modification, and distribution under a specific type of license. The license typically includes some key principles, such as allowing anyone to access, modify, and distribute the source code, and prohibiting restrictions on other software or hardware that uses it.

To be labeled as open source software, a package of software must adhere to the tenets of the Open Source Definition (OSD), as developed by the non-profit Open Source Initiative. The OSD includes criteria such as having a well-documented source code, making the same version of the software available to everyone, and not discriminating against specific people or groups of people.

History of Open Source Software

The concept of open source software has been around since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that the movement started to gain momentum. The Free Software Foundation (FSF), founded by Richard Stallman, aimed to promote free software, which referred to software that users were free to run, distribute, and change as they saw fit. However, in the early 1990s, concerns arose about the legal implications of the term “free software,” leading some to suggest the establishment of the term “open source software.”

The term “open source” was officially coined in 1998 at a meeting of software developers who wanted to make a clearer distinction between the free software movement and the pragmatic benefits of sharing source code. The term quickly caught on and became associated with software development that prioritizes collaboration, transparency, and community support.

Key Principles of OSS

There are several key principles that underpin the open source software movement, including:

  • Collaboration: Open source software encourages collaboration among developers, users, and other stakeholders.

  • Transparency: The source code of open source software is available for anyone to view and analyze, fostering an environment of transparency and openness.

  • Community support: Open source software often has a large community of supporters and contributors who help identify and fix bugs, suggest new features, and offer advice on how to use the software.

  • Customization: Open source software can be customized to meet specific needs, making it a flexible option for businesses.

Benefits of Using Open Source Software


One of the most significant benefits of using open source software is cost-effectiveness. Unlike proprietary software, open source software usually comes at no or low cost, and businesses can save money on licensing fees and software purchases. Additionally, since open source software can be customized to meet specific business needs, organizations can allocate their resources more efficiently and effectively.

Flexibility and Customization

Open source software is known for its flexibility and customization, as it allows users to modify and adapt the software for their specific needs. This makes it ideal for businesses with unique software requirements, as they can tailor the software to their exact specifications. Additionally, any modifications made by one user can be shared with the rest of the community, making it a collaborative effort.

Community Support and Collaboration

Open source software relies heavily on a community of developers and users who contribute their time and expertise to improve the software. This community can provide valuable support, guidance, and feedback, helping businesses to troubleshoot issues and optimize their use of the software.

Enhanced Security

Since the source code for open source software is available for anyone to analyze and scrutinize, security vulnerabilities are often identified and addressed more quickly. Additionally, users can take matters into their own hands by auditing the code themselves, adding an extra layer of security protection.

Popular Open Source Software Examples

Operating Systems

There are several open source operating systems that businesses can use, including:

  • Linux: A free and open source Unix-like operating system, Linux is highly customizable and adaptable to a range of hardware and software requirements.

  • Ubuntu: An open source Linux distribution that’s known for its ease of use and community support.

  • FreeBSD: Another free and open source Unix-like operating system, FreeBSD is known for its focus on security and optimization.

Content Management Systems

Open source content management systems (CMS) make it easy for businesses to build and maintain websites. Some popular examples include:

  • WordPress: A widely used CMS that’s known for its ease of use and versatility.

  • Joomla!: A powerful CMS that’s highly customizable and ideal for complex websites.

  • Drupal: Another robust CMS that’s known for its scalability and flexibility.

Development Tools

Open source development tools can help businesses create and manage their own software, including:

  • Eclipse: A free and open source integrated development environment (IDE) that supports multiple programming languages and frameworks.

  • GitHub: A web-based Git repository hosting service that provides version control and collaborative development features.

  • NetBeans: An open source IDE that’s specifically designed for Java application development.

Office Suites

Open source office suites can help businesses meet their productivity needs without the high cost of proprietary software. Some examples include:

  • LibreOffice: A free and open source productivity suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation program.

  • OpenOffice: Another free and open source productivity suite, OpenOffice includes similar programs to LibreOffice.

  • Calligra: A suite of office and productivity tools that’s designed for Linux and other Unix-based operating systems.

Open Source Software vs. Proprietary Software

Licensing and Ownership

Perhaps the most significant difference between open source software and proprietary software is licensing and ownership. Proprietary software is typically owned by the company that creates it, with users purchasing a license to use it. This means that users have certain restrictions placed on how they can use or modify the software.

On the other hand, open source software releases its source code to the public and provides users with a license to use, modify, and distribute the software as they see fit, providing they comply with the specific license conditions. This allows users more freedom to adapt the software to their specific needs and redistribute it within the open source community.

Accessibility and Distribution

Proprietary software is often only available through a limited number of channels, such as a specific operating system or vendor. This can make it harder for businesses to find and implement software that meets their needs.

With open source software, anyone can access and download the software from various websites and platforms. Additionally, since open source software can be distributed freely, businesses can share the software with others, making it easier for others to adopt and incorporate it into their own operations.

Support and Maintenance

Proprietary software companies typically provide support and maintenance for their products, which can be a selling point for businesses with limited resources. However, there may be limitations to the support provided, or additional costs associated with it.

With open source software, users rely on community support and collaboration to troubleshoot issues and develop new features. While this can be highly effective, it may not be suitable for businesses with specific software requirements or limited technical expertise.

Innovation and Updates

Proprietary software companies often focus on producing and distributing new versions of their software, providing users with new features and updates as they become available. While this can be beneficial for businesses that require the latest technology, it can also be disruptive and expensive to upgrade.

Open source software is often updated and improved by a large community of users and developers, making it more collaborative and organic in nature. While updates may be less frequent or structured than proprietary software, it can lead to more sustainable and flexible solutions.


Open source software represents a significant shift in how software is developed, licensed, and used. The principles of collaboration, transparency, and community support that underpin the movement have produced some of the most innovative and cost-effective software solutions available today. While open source software may not be suitable for every business, it’s certainly worth exploring for those looking to save money, increase flexibility, and tap into the power of community-driven innovation.