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Open source software: an introduction

Open Source on Tablet

What is Open Source Software?

LimeSurvey is an open source software (OSS) company. However, what does this mean for the general public? In short, it can be defined as "[...] software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition." (Source: Open Source Initiative)

OSS, which essentially consists of source code, is made openly available by whoever holds the original copyright. Based on a certain license agreement, the software can be used, changed or distributed by anyone, meaning it provides the opportunity to use it freely without any restrictions.

In this context, the software is usually not only developed by a core project team or company, but by anyone who wants to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the software’s features. The consequence is a collaborative creative process that drives the product development forward in an efficient and high-quality manner.

Open source projects are ultimately protected and promoted by the global non-profit Open Source Initiative.

Antonym of OSS is closed source proprietary software which refers to conventionally licensed software with the licensee being very limited in the range of applications. The software’s publisher usually owns the intellectual property rights, i.e. foremost the source code copyright which restricts the use, inspection, modification and distribution of the software. This grants exclusive rights to those people willing to pay for using the software product.

The Advantages

This model can lead to a multitude of advantages in comparison to proprietary closed source software:
  • The large community development base leads to an above average review rate of the source code which accelerates and improves troubleshooting/bug fixing

  • The broad collaborative efforts generate more diverse design scopes

  • Offers full product transparency as well as security

  • Avoids contractual vendor lock-in for its users

  • Avoids the necessity of having to use specific hardware to run the software

  • Allows for anyone to propose and execute new ideas which ultimately boosts innovation effects

  • Allows for full software customisation, from a private as well as business perspective

  • Support is distributed among all software users’ shoulders instead of reduced to only one team or company

  • Most or all software features can usually be used for free without having to spend a cent

  • If the core development team or company goes out of business, the software can yet be further developed

The Disadvantages

Nevertheless, there may also be disadvantages about the OSS model:
  • As OSS is freely driven by developers modifying the source code, the needs of average end users may not be fully met

  • OSS relies on strong community support in favour of phone or chat support, the latter of which most people are used to and feel more comfortable using

  • Among those improving the software, there may also be malicious users that may make the software vulnerable

  • Often, OSS requires more time and effort to be able to use it

Concluding Remarks

Besides LimeSurvey, many well-known companies have been successful in developing popular OSS applications, e.g. Magento, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), VLC Media Player.

Open source solutions combine the benefits of large scalability and low costs while unconditionally allowing every person to have access to the software in order to ensure worldwide user equality and fairness. As it’s easy to switch between vendors and test different open source software solutions for free, there is no risk of getting stuck with the “wrong” product.

LimeSurvey open source software is a powerful tool which matches the functionality and performance of commercial proprietary solutions. It is thereby free of charge up to 25 responses per month with all features included. The LimeSurvey team is continuously working on great software upgrades, powerful features and user-friendly handling.

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