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There are a number of potential advantages of open source software, though real benefits can depend a great deal upon the type of software developed and how it is to be used. One of the major benefits in using open source programs is the ability for a community to develop around the software and make improvements more quickly than is typically possible for a closed or commercial program. Since open source software can be modified by its users, businesses can also find ways to upgrade and change software to more accurately meet their needs. Cost-effectiveness can also be one of the major advantages of open source software, as most open source programs are free to use.
The advantages of open source software often depend a great deal upon how many users are part of the community supporting a particular program. A relatively small community may be sufficient for small open source programs that are also small in scale. Larger programs, including operating systems and open source alternatives to popular mainstream software, can have much larger communities. This means that open source programs may have thousands of users that provide patches, updates, utilities, and other tools for that software, allowing development to be faster and broader than commercial software can typically support.
There are also some advantages of open source software that are based on the open source format. Most software is protected under copyright laws at the moment it is created, as the source code is treated as an original creative work. Software that is developed as an open source project, however, forgoes such protection and typically has a license that allows others to use and modify the software as they see fit. Some open source programs can even be sold by users, regardless of who originally created the source code.
For businesses and other users, advantages of open source software include the fact that the software can be upgraded and modified to meet the needs of those companies and individuals. A fairly basic tool for server maintenance, for example, may be available as an open source program. Changes can then be made to the code for that software by programmers or administrators at a company, customizing the software to have tools or features specific to that company’s needs. This can turn a simple, free program into a more powerful tool or utility.
One of the biggest advantages of open source software, however, is the cost of such software. Most open source programs are provided as freeware, with a general public license that allows others to download, change, use, and distribute the software free of charge. This can make these programs an attractive alternative to potentially expensive commercial software.