Open Source Software: a Brief Introduction
One big advantage of open source software (OSS) is that it can be customized to fit the needs of users. The availability of the software's source code, the text files used to create a program, "allows anyone to examine the program to see how it works, fix bugs, or change it to suit personal needs" (Pfaffman, 2007, p. 38). Jesus Gonzalez-Barahona said (2000) that having access to source code allows for continuous fine tuning and improvement of the software. He added that "It also makes it possible to port the code to new hardware, to adapt it to changing conditions, and to reach a detailed understanding of how the system works" (Gonzalez-Barahona, 2000).
Pfaffman compared free and open source software to freedom of speech. He said (2007) "Like freedom of speech, one does not need to use source code to benefit from it. Free software gives everyone the freedom to run, study, change, and redistribute software. It is these freedoms, not the price, that is important about free software" (2007, p. 38).
Digital Library Development
Often when developing digital library collections and services, new kinds of tools and services must be created. Roy Tennant said (2000) that the creation of prototypes for these new tools is an important part of the development process. "Open source software contributes to prototype development by being free, as well as alterable to different specifications. This enables digital library developers to prototype new systems for very little up-front cost, which helps persuade funding sources to back a project" (Tennant, 2000).
Another strength of OSS is that it allows developers of digital libraries to cooperate on solving problems more easily and openly. While commercial software developers must maintain secrecy to protect the time and money spent on developing software, "tools and techniques developed by the open source movement (such as version control software) readily support collaboration among a diverse group of developers who may be physically far from one another" (Tennant, 2000). This cooperation allows problems to be addressed without the limitations faced by commercial developers.