Open Source software dominates the libraries of many developers and coders, and may even be incorporated in proprietary development packages, such as .NET. But, what is open source, and why is it important to manage the use of open source software?
By definition, open source software is software code that meets certain definitions articulated by a standards society, The Open Source Initiative. While the Open Source Definition flows from the older Free Software Initiative, neither open source software nor "freeware" is without cost. Indeed, the cost could be very high.
The nature of the rights granted and responsibilities required to use open source code are determined by the license agreement associated with each specific program/module/code segment. Presently, there are over sixty common and standard licenses that meet the definition of "open source," however, be aware that there are many other licenses floating around that claim to be open source and are not, as well as others that would qualify as open source if they were known to the Open Source Initiative.
The most commonly used open source programs are governed by licenses called "business friendly," loosely meaning that the use of the code merely requires some degree of attribution, and programs incorporating the open source code may be licensed commercially for money. However, some open source programs/modules/etc are governed by "business aggressive" licenses. These may forbid the code from being used commercially (with various penalties for violations), require that programs (meaning your program) incorporating their code also be likewise open source, or even that if your code incorporates the open source code, the creator of that original open source code obtains the rights to your code. The lesson: read the license, and ask an attorney what using that code means to you.
Warning! Failure to properly document the origin of your code, which means documenting the open source license associated with each segment/module/etc. means that a potential acquiring company or investor must assume that your code incorporates in whole or in part "business aggressive" licenses. Accordingly, it will have to independently determine the origin of the code, and either your company or the acquiring company will have to independently create alternatives to this code. Needless to say, this process is expensive, and kills deals. Thrasher Associates is a pioneer in open source management.
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