Elance Blog

Open Source: What It Is And Why You Should Care

Open source. It’s out there, and my bet is that you’ve already run into it in some form probably without even noticing it. Its prevalence in the real world is palpable — there’s open source software, hardware, books, journalism, politics — even an open source soda dubbed “OpenCola” has been seen in the wild. And after taking a hard look at the latest trends on our April Elance Online Work Index, it’s clear that this whole “open” idea won’t be vanishing anytime soon.

But what does the term “open source” actually mean? Some believe, “It’s free as in freedom, not free as in beer,” while others say, “Sometimes, it’s free as in beer, too!” Others preach, “It’s the open sharing of knowledge,” and some others yell, “Free code!”

With all of this open source talk floating around, it’s easy to get mixed up with what the term really means. Here’s a quick primer to get you started.

The Idea

In order to be a part of the open source crew, there are 10 rules in the Open Source Initiative's definition that one must follow. But the main pillars behind the idea are these three points: (1) there must be free redistribution (meaning your code can be shared freely), (2) the original source code must be obtainable in a reasonable fashion, and (3) you must allow modifications and derived works. (See the full definition here.)

The Usage

If you’re anything like me, you’re asking, “So, what’s in it for me?” A lot, actually. Let me break it down into an individual elancer perspective.

Say you’re an employer on Elance with a small brick-and-mortar store that sells hand-crafted jewelry. Business is blossoming and you have your sights set on an global e-Commerce store. However, your budget is limited, you need one-of-a-kind functionality, and you definitely can't afford to have a site built completely from scratch. Fortunately, you find an expert provider that specializes in open-source e-Commerce solutions. The provider obtains an osCommerce software packages at little or no cost, and with some code-changing trickery, the provider launches your store with all extra features in tact. Your jewelry sells like hotcakes, you become an overnight celebrity, you get your own reality TV show, and you live happily ever after.

The Impact

The benefits of open source are obvious for all parties involved. The provider has access to a wide variety of continuously updated software platforms and solutions that they can personalize to custom specs instead of building an entire platform from the ground up. The provider also has access to a huge, constantly-growing wealth of knowledge through online open-source communities. On the other side, the employer doesn't have to use (or pay for, in a lot of cases) an entirely proprietary software package, meaning saved money while still being able to fulfill the employer’s very last need.

The previous example is exactly that: one example of many, many possibilities. Need content management? WordPress, MovableType, and Drupal are just a few options. Web server? Apache. Operating system? Linux. Bulletin board software? phpBB. Database? MySQL. Even programming languages have gone open source, with Perl, Python, PHP, and Ruby, just to name a few. The list goes on, and on... and on.

The open source world is a deep and complex one. If you’re interested in learning more about open source software or the idea as a whole, check out the Open Source Initiative's website for more information. The open source page on Wikipedia is also a great place to start. And if you’re interested in using an open source solution for your next project, look no further than our home page – we have countless experts that are fluent in a ton of open source technologies.


Alex, Another great post. There are people who doubt the authenticity of deliverables when it comes to Open Source solutions. We have had clients who had a limited budget and no idea as to what can be done within that budget. It is then that we suggest open source solutions. Though it is easy and cheap, it comes with its own set of do's and dont's. You need to have efficient resources to customize open source code in the way that is appropriate to the client's business. One golden rule as far as open source solutions are concerned is - customize it, but never, never compromise your end product for the sake of the code. And if you are not able to deliver the work-product in one platform, try another, but do not compromise as that will leave a bad taste in the client. Venkatesh,