What's this all about?
Currently, major software companies, such as Microsoft, dominate the computer market. They charge high prices for simple things such as word processors, operating systems, and basic presentation software. These products are protected by endless amounts of legal copyright and can only be changed or edited by the companies that make them.
However, there is an alternative to this. Everyone has heard of Windows XP, but there is a free, Linux-based, alternative known as Fedora. If you are not satisfied with Microsoft Office, there is Open Office, the free-to-download, open-sourced alternative.
All software created under Open Source includes its own code to be changed by anyone who downloads it. With the right amount of training, anyone can add or change their version of a software product and possibly make it better. Quoting from the GNU Public License: "the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software--to make sure the software is free for all its users."
This introduces a more organic concept of software development, free of legal barriers and profit-driven mentalities.
For more info, check out our Science and Open Source page.
What is Open Source?
The short answer is: Software licensed and distributed under the GPL or a similar Open Source license.
You're probably used to scrolling through a long End User License Agreement (EULA) when you install software. Commercial EULAs typically tell you all sorts of things you can't do with the software. For example, Microsoft does not allow you to redistribute copies of Microsoft Office. Open Source software is distributed under terms that explicitly protect your right to tinker and redistribute copies.
The longer answer is spelled out in the Open Source Definition. There are ten basic requirements:
- Free Redistribution
- Source Code available
- Derived Works permitted
- Integrity of The Author's Source Code
- No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
- No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
- Distribution of License
- License Must Not Be Specific to a Product
- License Must Not Restrict Other Software
- License Must Be Technology-Neutral
The page linked above gives a more complete explanation of each bullet point.
Why do we need an organization at UNC-CH?
Contribution to University's Mission
The Carolina Open Source Initiative (COSI) will contribute to the university's mission by promoting computer software that will enhance the educational experience of students, the research of faculty, and services to the general population. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) provides an option to those who do not wish to use or cannot afford traditional commercial software. The non-profit, national organization Open Source Initiative notes that "most/all open source software can be freely copied and used. There are no licenses to track and thus no related costs, or legal risks." By eliminating barriers such as cost and license fees, FOSS will enable a greater number of students and community members to engage in creative expression, research, and tasks of productivity using programs that are just as functional and more reliable and flexible than traditional commercial software.
Many students may worry about financing software such as Microsoft Office in order to complete assignments on a daily basis. This program costs a minimum of $185.00 when purchased for a PC through UNC Student Stores. An open source office suite such as Open Office provides nearly identical functionality and is available for no cost. Additional open source programs for tasks such as media viewing and creating are similarly available for no cost. Since the costs of achieving an advanced degree in a university environment are increasing, the use of open source software will contribute to students' quality of life and financial stability. Support, resources, and a community of users of these programs will be available through networks created and maintained by COSI.
Faculty and graduate students performing research will also benefit from open source software in many of the same ways that students will. In addition, COSI will provide the support for researchers from a variety of backgrounds to become intellectual leaders and researchers in this advancing field. While computer science students could gain a lot by developing programs that could be promoted through COSI, business students will find new opportunities for research and practice in developing business models concerning the advancement of the collaborative development of various types of open source software. Law students may be interested in the ramifications of copyright laws on open source software, and students studying social development may be concerned with how open source software has affected the digital divide in areas of the world where more traditional commercial software is too expensive. COSI will support these endeavors and search for additional ways in which open source software can promote research and intellectual advancement.
We also hope to diminishing the digital divide by promoting FOSS throughout the community. Many members of our local community as well as software users worldwide are greatly affected by the cost and licensing restrictions of commercial software. Open source software promotes the freedom of resources that advance quality of life, intellectual freedom, creative expression, and knowledge.
COSI has and will continue to promote and recruit public speakers to come to campus who will discuss the issues of open source software.
Value of University Recognition
Official recognition has the benefits of being able to reserve room space, SLICE space, web space (e.g. http://www.unc.edu/yd/) and apply for funding through Student Congress/GPSF Senate. There may also be posting policies in dorms or in campus buildings that only let official organizations post. Furthermore, current campus organizations, such as FADD (Fighting Against the Digital Divide) are hesitant to make plans with COSI until it gets official recognition.