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Open source now a consumer play

Ask almost anyone whether they are using open source software (OSS) and you are likely to be met by a blank stare. Many people would be surprised to hear that they are either using it on the mobile device they own or on their social media platform of choice, says MUGGIE VAN STADEN, CEO of Obsidian.

In short, the average person uses OSS daily and does not even know it.

Facebook is an open source (OS) platform that allows users to become their own moderators and content producers.

Mobile open source is becoming more prolific, as we can see through the uptake of Android in South Africa. Management consoles in new cars are starting to use Linux: most animated movies are rendered using Linux. So if you phone a friend to see if they can go to a movie, search online to book the movie, drive there and then enjoy the show, you have been aided by OSS technology throughout.

The popularity of sites like Google, LinkedIn and Twitter mean that most technology users have come to rely on OSS in some way in their daily lives.

Proponents of proprietary software might say that the growth of OSS is simply the result of coming off a very low base and that the majority of users still feel more comfortable in living their connected lives on a more “closed and stable”” platform.

But the flip side is also true. OSS does not only mean that it is the source code that is available for everyone to copy and distribute and change to their heart’s content. Certainly, those who want to programme and want to make their own software find a natural calling to OSS.

However, the majority of people do not really care how the software they are using came to be. But think about the concept of collaboration. This has been around for centuries. There is an often used saying that says it takes a village to raise a child. Today, the power of a community, in whatever shape or form, is essential for the success of most endeavours. If people do not work together but in isolation of one another, then goals will not be achieved nearly as effectively and the chances of failure are increased.

Collaborating means that people build something together and collectively act better than a single entity. The growth of Android is partly thanks to its ability to adopt to change much faster than proprietary systems. That has seen it become the dominant mobile platform globally.

The concept of open source extends beyond search engines and mobile devices. Today, you can find anything from open source hardware to aircraft and even beer.

The fact is that people enjoy working together. If the internet has shown us anything it is that communities of interest develop around those who share similar tastes and passions. This results in them inevitably starting to do things together to help grow those shared interests.

If you fancy yourself a decent home baker but want to take your skills to the next level, it is highly unlikely that one of the big multinationals will share some of their trade secrets or recipes with you. However, there are millions of people online doing just that. They are working together and sharing recipes and tips and tricks to enable the specific community to growth through shared knowledge.

And that is what open source is all about: empowering each of us to develop our skills as individuals through the power of working together. Yes, there might be financial rewards associated with that, but it is not the end goal. By doing something you are passionate about, you are giving yourself the opportunity to enhance and refine that skill and help other people do the same.

So the next time you switch on your phone, or post that message on a social network, take some time to think how a lot of these things would not be possible without OSS.

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