10th January 2020 : The Hindu Editorials : Mains Sure Shot
Question – The government announced adoption of open-source software in e-governance applications and services. What do you understand by open-source software? Examine its benefits and also highlight the effect of this policy on various stakeholders.
Context – Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for GoI and Framework for adoption of OSS in eGovernance applications.
What is Open source software (OSS) ? How is it different from proprietary software?
- Open-source refers to the software whose source code is available for anybody to access and modify, while proprietary software refers to the software which is solely owned by the individual or publisher who developed it.
- But remember oss is different from free software because it is not necessary that oss will always be free or free software will have an open source.
- Whatever work we do on our mobile or laptop, we do all of them with the help of different software.
- These softwares are written and developed through different programmes.
- When a developer uses his technical knowledge to develop a software, he writes a source code.
- When he gives this source code to all the people to read the source code, to modify it, to make it more better and convenient, it is called an OSS.
- So an OSS is such a software that is developed through a source code, the user can study and modify it and its source code is freely available on the internet.
- Such softwares come in OS category whose source code is available for all.
- National Resource Centre for Free/ Open Source Software (NRCFOSS) is a government agency that works on promoting OSS in India.
- When we use our mobile or laptop to download a software, we see that many softwares are available for free download. These are usually OSS.
How do people (developers) make changes in OSS?
- See to develop any software we need coding and coding is of 2 types – one is source code and the other is object code.
- When we write programs in any programming languages like C, C++ or Java, then these programmes are not of 5 or 10 lines. They are much longer.
- In the language of computer they are called programme instructions. These are like a code. This code is called source code.
- Now, when we run a software on a device, the computer cannot understand this source code because it is in human readable format. The computer or the device to understand this source code converts this ‘source code’ to ‘object code’.
- The computer only understands 0 and 11 byte. This makes up the object code. So the object code is a sequence of 1 and 0 bytes like 0101, 001, 0011 and so on.
- It is only after converting the source code to the object code that a software can run. So if we know the source code we can make changes in the software or develop a new software. There are no restrictions in it.
- But as said all softwares on the internet are not free. There are some to which to use we need to pay.they are called closed door software (CDS) or Proprietary software. We don’t get the source code with these softwares. They are reserved with the ones who have developed it. So they cannot be modified by anyone except the developer.
- Simple examples of closed door software are IOS and Windows software.
Why OSS is better than CDS why?
- Because we can modify an OSS and make it convenient and easier for us to use. This is not possible in CDS. This is the reason why many new developers use OSS to test the programmes written by them.
- The operating systems like Linux and Symbian, in server category Apache and Joomla, in programming language category PHP and Python, in web browser category Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome are some examples of OSS.
- The biggest example of OSS is Android which is used by millions of people worldwide. It is an OSS developed by Google and can be used and modified by anyone and distributed by anyone.
- For example, we know that Android is an OSS. So any developer worldwide can modify it. Like if we take two devices, say Samsung and any other company’s phone that uses Android, then we see Android in different forms in both the devices. It is because though the kernel or the basic structure is of Android, companies have modified it according to their needs.
- Free of cost – The softwares and their source codes are available free of cost.
- High quality – they are better in quality than some commercial software because the whole developer community across the world continuously keep modifying them to fix any big or update for better features. The convenience of all types of users are kept in mind. The complete developer community from around the world keep working on it. You don’t have to depend on the software vendor for any update to get a new feature or to fix a bug.
- Security – they are updated from time to time where their bugs and errors are repaired because developers from around the world contribute to it.
- Training – Many people like oss because they can use OSS and make better programmes. These have an open source code so any novice can easily learn programming through these. Through the students who study computer programmes can learn coding and develop their programming and developing skills. To edit an OSS one can easily get the source code from development platform. Among development programmes Github.com is the most popular name.
- Control – users are given full control to modify the source code.
- Continuous development cycle – since source code is freely available, everyone can contribute to the future development of the software. This gives the software a continuous development cycle and hence it can speedily grow and develop.
- The OSS policy is a step in the right direction. To make it work, however, the government will need enough trained workforce to generate the required content.