The IT industry is a curious one. There has been a great proliferation of free software called Open Source that includes many types of programs from Operating Systems to Web Builders. There are literally thousands of individuals and groups that build Open Source software and give it away for free. I cannot think of another industry that gives away products for free.
Open Source refers to providing the source or program code for software free of charge, while still being released under a license you are free to use the software without paying for it. Communities around the world keep the software maintained and as long as the community remains healthy the software will be actively maintained and enhance it. This is not an option with most commercial software as software companies do not release the source code, which is required if you wish to modify the program.
In personal computing commercial software has been the dominant force with Microsoft being the dominant supplier. This has been largely due to the more user friendly nature of the offerings. While I’m likely to start a flame war by writing this however Linux and other open source software in the past required a minimum level of technical knowledge to use though that has improved significantly in recent years. The other issue people have is the common issue of commercial vendors not making their software compatible with other vendors software. This is commonly referred to as vendor lock-in.
In the Internet space Open Source has become the dominant force. Initially this was due to Linux and FreeBSD being used as the server platform for most of the Internet based companies. While the systems were harder to setup and maintain than commercial alternatives the cost savings more than made up for this plus since these systems are open source the people using are able to improve the systems. This is something that is against the law to do with commercial offerings without permission from the vendor, which you’re unlikely to receive.
I wonder how the Internet would have grown if all the Hosting and Service Providers had to pay licensing and more importantly had to incur the added expense of more powerful servers to run either Windows or a commercial Unix. One of the wonders that Google and later Facebook have done is proven that you can build massive server farms with commodity hardware and free software.
An area that Open Source has been able to flourish in is Content Management Systems. There are many of these including the popular WordPress. These systems have had massive growth due to the support large communities of developers both in the core systems but also web developers who are building sites and themes based on these systems.
The other area that Open Source has become a dominant force is in smart phones. Whether or not you are aware Android is based on Linux and iOS while closed source itself has parts of FreeBSD which is Open Source in it.
The beauty of open source software is that it evolves to meet the needs of the users which also include the developers. Open source software is generally created by people trying to solve a problem like building a flexible and easy to use web building platform like ImpressPages, Concrete5 and of course WordPress.
So next time you are writing a blog article in WordPress take some time to remember all the people who give up their time to keep it and many other packages alive.