What is Open Source Software?

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David and David with a picture of Richard Stallman between them
David and David discuss Open-Source Software and Richard Stallman on our latest Thimble Fireside Chat.

You want to avoid paying for a program like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, so you find a pretty good alternative online, like OpenOffice or GIMP. Your alternative is free and open-source, and you might not know what “open-source” means, but hey, it’s free, right?!

Open-source software is unique in that it allows its users to play a part in running, sharing, studying, creating, and modifying the program or platform. It is essentially the opposite of proprietary software, meaning that there is not explicit ownership retained by the author of the program. Software developers make a conscious decision to provide these rights to their users. The goal of open source software is to create free and open environment that intends to make the product the best it can be.

The Role of Open-Source Software (and Hardware!) at Thimble

Here at Thimble, we are huge advocates of open-source culture. In fact, our Thimble learning platform content is completely free and open source. This means that everyone has the ability to access the instructions for our DIY electronics kits at any time, regardless of whether or not they have ever been a Thimble customer!

By releasing all of the schematics, code, and work that goes into developing Thimble projects, our community forum has become a place of communication and collaboration. Users work together to expand on our kits and share their creations with the world! The best part of our commitment to open source is the flexibility and freedom that grants our users to tinker and hack without any consequences. We love that our community plays such a major role in our mission here at Thimble: to make electronics more accessible, inspiring, and fun!

Free vs. Open-Source

February is National Free and Open-Source Software Month, but what exactly is the difference between “free” and “open source”? According to Richard Stallman, a software developer and software freedom activist, “the two terms describe almost the same category of software,” but do not necessarily share the same values. To Stallman, open source is more of a development methodology, whereas free software is an entire social movement. In the ‘80s, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project. He also developed a legal concept that would protect the ideals of his movement, called “copyleft,” intended to be the opposite of “copyright.”

When we call software ‘free,’ we mean that it respects the users’ essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of ‘free speech,’ not ‘free beer.’ These freedoms are vitally important. — Richard Stallman

Happy National Free and Open-Source Software Month! To learn more about what open-source software means and how it plays a part at Thimble, check out our latest Fireside Chat on YouTube with our engineers David and David:

 

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