Frequently Asked Questions
How many people are using open-source software?
It's hard to know. Because a lot of it is spread via free downloads
off the Internet, nobody has anything like total sales figures. Also,
many users in corporate settings hide the fact for political reasons.
Linux is believed to have somewhere between 4 and 27 million users,
with best estimates towards the upper end of that range. (According
to IDG, business Linux usage increased 212% in 1998. Other figures
indicate it is roughly doubling yearly.)
The Netcraft web server
survey tallies which web servers are used on the Internet. It
consistently shows the open-source Apache web server to have over 50%
and steadily increasing market share, beating out better-hyped
proprietary products like Netscape's and Microsoft's server suites.
The Internet Operating System
Counter collects data about operating system usage on the Internet
in Europe. It consistently shows Linux is the most popular
Internet-connected operating system there.
Indirectly, everybody who sends email or uses the Web is using
open-source software all the time. The running gears of the Internet
(its mail transports, web servers, and FTP servers) are almost all
Isn't it hard to get reliable support for open-source software?
Absolutely not! InfoWorld's 1997 "Best Product of the Year" roundup
should have demolished this myth once and for all.
Read the article to see their analysis, including this quote:
... readers who are using Linux in a business environment said
they found the support they received to be far more impressive
than what they were used to with commercial software.
Linux is not an exception. In fact, business users will generally find
that mature open-source products are far more
reliable to begin with, and that when support is needed it
is dramatically cheaper and easier to get than from closed vendors.
But there aren't any real applications for open-source operating
systems, are there?
Do the Oracle, Informix, and InterBase databases count? How about
Word Perfect and the Corel office suite? Have you checked out
the ApplixWare and StarOffice suites? We've got all of these and
We're building and porting more and better applications all
the time at a pace closed developers cannot match. Go to the Linux Mall, for example, to learn about
the wide selection of office suites and productivity tools now available
under Linux. The Linux
Business Solutions Project maintains a list of mainstream
business applications available under Linux.
There's a widespread belief that the population of technical people
who have written and maintained most open source up to now don't have
the motivation or competence to write "real" office-type applications
with user-friendly GUI interfaces. There's some good evidence this
belief is false (such as the GIMP, KDE, and Gnome projects).
More importantly, there's no good reason to think it's true. Fifteen
years ago people were saying, "The free software people build some nice
toys and demos, but they haven't got what it takes to build real
tools." The FSF proved them wrong. Five years ago the same people
said "OK, GNU is a nifty programmer's toolkit but they'll never build
a viable operating system." Linux proved them wrong again. Now
they're saying "OK, so Linux is a nice sandbox for hackers and it does
Internet pretty well, but they'll never build decent end-user
applications." If the naysayers are right this time, it will be
Doesn't closed source help protect against crack attacks?
This is exactly backwards, as any cryptographer will
tell you. Security through obscurity just does not work.
The reason it doesn't work is that security-breakers are a lot more
motivated and persistent than good guys (who have lots of other things
to worry about). The bad guys will find the holes
whether source is open or closed (for a perfect recent example of this
see The Tao of
Windows Buffer Overflow).
Closed sources do three bad things. One: they create a false sense of
security. Two: they mean that the good guys will not find
holes and fix them. Three: they make it harder to distribute
trustworthy fixes when a hole is revealed.
In fact, open-source operating systems and applications are generally much
more security-safe than their closed-source counterparts. When the
"Ping o' Death" exploit was revealed in 1997 (for example) Linux had fix patches
within hours. Closed-source OSs didn't plug the hole for months.
Alan Cox has written an excellent article on The
Risks of Closed Source Computing.
Are you guys opposed to intellectual property rights?
The Open Source Initiative does not have a position on whether
ideas can be owned, whether patents are good or bad, or any of the
related controversies. We think the economic self-interest arguments
for open source are strong enough that nobody needs to go on any
moral crusades about it.
What's the relationship between open source and Linux?
Linux is an open-source
operating system, and to date the most dramatically successful
open-source platform. Linux is very popular in education, Internet service
applications, software development shops, and (increasingly) in small
businesses. Several successful companies market Linux and Linux applications.
Linux isn't the whole open-source story, however. There are many
other open-source operating systems and applications available,
including Netscape's Navigator and Communicator client
line of Web browsers.
How is "open source" related to "free software"?
The Open Source Initiative is a marketing program for free software.
It's a pitch for "free software" on solid pragmatic grounds rather
than ideological tub-thumping. The winning substance has not changed,
the losing attitude and symbolism have. See the discussion of marketing for hackers for
So that it is clear what kind of software we are talking about, we
publish standards for open-source licenses. We have
created a certification mark, "OSI Certified," to be applied only to
software that is distributed under an open-source license that meets
criteria set by the Open Source Initiative as representatives of the
open software community. We intend this mark to become a widely
recognized and valued symbol, clearly indicating that software does, in
fact, have the properties that the community has associated with the
descriptive term `open source'.
What is 'shared-source'?
Michael Tiemann (of RedHat and the OSI board) explains here.
Isn't there another entity called "open source" or "Open Source"?
There are several. The term "open source" has a technical meaning in
the intelligence community; it refers to publicly accessible
intelligence sources such as newspapers. One is a company that
distributes the text of large contracts. One is a defunct supplier for
NeXT systems. Fortunately, they are all in different trademark
How do I use the term "open source"?
The phrase "open source" standing by itself is a mass noun. In
compounds that use the phrase as an adjectival noun, such as
"open-source software," follow normal English usage and hyphenate.
While there is agreement on the broad term "open source" as meaning
approximately what is captured in the Open Source
Definition the term has, ironically, now become so popular that it
has lost some of its precision. We strongly encourage everyone who
cares about open software to use the term only to describe licenses
that conform to the OSD, or software distributed under such licenses;
but since the term has passed into more general use, we also encourage
people to refer to the "OSI Certified" mark, which has precision and
legal force in identifying software distributed under licenses that
are known to meet the OSD requirements.
Can you give me some open-source sound bites to use?
The one-sentence version:
Open source promotes software reliability and quality by supporting independent peer review and rapid evolution of source code.
The one-paragraph version:
Open source promotes software reliability and quality by supporting independent peer review and rapid evolution of source code. To be OSI certified, the software must be distributed under a license that guarantees the right to read, redistribute, modify, and use the software freely.
Where can I find Open Source software?
There are a number of places on the internet to find what you're looking for. Try the following, but always verify the licenses of the software you're looking at to verify it for OSI certification: