What Is OSS and Why Is It Important?

What is oss

What Is OSS and Why Is It Important?

What exactly is OSS? The world of computing is replete with acronyms that might have zero explanation for a layperson. That said, OSS is one of the more important developments across the whole of computing. As you’ll discover through the course of this guide, there is a very important principle running at the heart of it.

Not only is it crucial for modern computing, it is extremely widespread. You’ll find examples of it everywhere, regardless of whether you’re aware of it. This is arguably one of the most important developments in software, beyond important breakthroughs like coding languages and the transistor.

Defining OSS

So, what is OSS? OSS is short for open-source software, and to say it is important is a bit of an understatement. In software development, there is closed-source and open-source software. Closed-source software generally refers to code bases that are administered and overseen by whoever owns it. This leads to a walled-garden approach to software development.

Closed-source software can be more focused and polished but isn’t really prone to user input. It is instead driven by whoever owns it. Open-source software takes an open-market approach to software development. There might be a core team at the heart of things, but anyone is free to make additions as they see fit.

Now, this does have its drawbacks. Development might be less focused, as anyone is free to add whatever they want. However, on the whole, it is full of benefits as you’ll have edge use cases accounted for in some instances.

How Do You Use OSS?

Linux and its related distros are shining examples of OSS development over the last 30 years.

©Stanislaw Mikulski/Shutterstock.com

So, how is OSS actually used by people in computing? It is generally used like any other software, but here are a few prominent examples in a variety of different categories.

Word Processing and Productivity

Arguably the most popular open-source productivity is LibreOffice. This is a close equivalent to the popular Microsoft Office productivity suite and comes with a full complement of software for your office needs.

LibreOffice is intended to be a complete replacement for Microsoft Office and has enjoyed continued open-source development for a number of years. The software is just one great example of what can be accomplished with open-source development.


You can certainly write code in any software you’d like. However, there are a few open-source alternatives to more popular text editors and IDEs. One popular example is Code:Blocks which is a platform-agnostic IDE built for usability.

Atom is another popular editor, with users being able to engage in limitless customization while enjoying a lightweight and easy-to-manage code editor. It only makes sense that open-source development targets tools for software developers. The ethos that runs as an undercurrent to open-source development is very much in line with freedom for developers.

Graphic Design

Graphic design has no shortage of options when it comes to open-source software. Projects like GIMP have enjoyed continued popularity while acting as an alternative to popular proprietary suites like Photoshop. There are additional programs like Inkscape, which accomplishes the same goals but for vector illustrations.

One that has seen a surge in popularity in the last decade is Krita. Krita isn’t necessarily meant to replace the functionality of any one given program. However, if you’re looking for a solid and dependable platform for digital art, Krita is a wonderful choice. The native support for drawing tablets is an added bonus.

Audio Production

Audio production is a little slimmer in terms of overall choices. However, you do still have options. While most serious post-production houses are going to lean on the likes of Avid’s Pro Tools or Adobe Audition for mastering audio, there are open-source alternatives.

Consider Ardour, a fully open-source digital audio workstation that has some big-name support behind it. Audio giant Solid State Logic is no stranger to post-production, and its subsidiary Harrison uses Ardour as the basis for its Mixbus software.

You’ll often find old standbys like Audacity, which has come under fire for some questionable decisions as of late. Thankfully, open-source software has allowed the community to create their own fork to keep things running smoothly and without the risk of gathering data.

Operating Systems

While you won’t find the likes of Windows or macOS as open-source software, one big name certainly is. The kernel and subsequent development of operating systems around the Linux kernel have led to a boom when it comes to open-source software. You’ll find Linux distros catered towards audio, gaming, and everything else.

Linux is arguably the biggest success story behind open-source development, and the ethos of OSS permeates through it as a whole. The default tools that come with any Linux distro are typically OSS, keeping very in line with the vision of Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman.


You certainly aren’t misreading the headline. Licensing like the MIT software license has to go through approval from the OSI, or Open Source Initiative. This ensures that the ethos behind open-source software is maintained for anyone to use.

You’ll see other licenses in the wild like Creative Commons, BSD, and GNU. These all have a bit of the same thinking behind them. The consortium that certifies open-source software for the masses wants users to be free to use, modify, and share anything they create.

Is OSS in Use In Business?

RHEL is one popular open-source choice used in servers around the world.

©Граймс / GNU General Public License – License

Plenty of users rely on OSS on a daily basis for their productivity and leisure. However, does it see any use in business? The answer is an overwhelming yes, as you’ll find below. OSS has a very rigid place in business use and doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. Do keep in mind it is typically on the IT side of things, rather than handling financial information.


An overwhelming majority of the world’s servers run on some distro of Linux. As such, it’s fairly common to see administrative utilities and operating systems on software that are entirely OSS. Popular server operating system choices include Debian, CentOS, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat in particular demonstrates that you can still make money on OSS.

While the server operating system is free from Red Hat, you’ll have to pay for continued support. This is an invaluable service while still allowing system administrators to utilize the power of OSS in their workplaces.


Workstations are another popular area where OSS reigns supreme. These are high-powered machines, and you’ll often find the likes of OSS used for some rather crucial tasks. Software like Blender is a popular OSS choice for the likes of 3D modeling. You’ll also find other high-resource software in use that is completely open-source by design.

OSS Pros and Cons


  • The software is generally free to use.
  • Anyone can contribute to development.
  • If you don’t like the direction of a project, depending on licensing you can fork it for your own uses.


  • Development focus can vary wildly, leading to mixed results.
  • Most open-source software is going to require you to provide support.
  • Some functionality in closed-source software cannot be fully replicated in OSS.

Is OSS Vital for Modern Computing?

So, is OSS important to modern computing? The simple answer is yes, and much of the world relies on open-source software. It’s hard to imagine a world where there isn’t a basis for the Android operating system.

The world of computer networking would look vastly different without open-source software to drive the servers and terminals used to connect to the web as a whole. Simply put, OSS isn’t just important, but it is crucial and goes hand in hand with modern computing.

Sure, there is certainly a place for closed-source software, you can’t replicate everything exactly. But there is certainly something to be said about having the tools you need for a job that is well-documented and developed by people working in the field. Any network administrator worth their salt is keenly aware of the likes of Emacs and Vim, after all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to be open-source?

For software to be open-source it has to be freely shared, modified, and used by its userbase.

Is Windows open-source?

No, Windows is closed-source software. The kernel and operating system behind Windows are the intellectual property of Microsoft, and attempts to replicate it can result in legal action.

Is there a way to check if the software I use is open-source?

Typically, where you download the software will have the pertinent licensing information on display somewhere. You can also see if it uses something like MIT licensing as part of the software’s description.

Is GIMP a suitable replacement for Photoshop?

There are certain functions of Photoshop that GIMP just simply cannot replace. These are generally proprietary tech developed by Adobe over the years. As a basic image manipulation and photo editing software suite, GIMP can handle a large majority of tasks.

Are there open-source games?

Absolutely, classics like the 1992 release of Doom or 1996’s Quake have their source code freely available to anyone. Where things get a little hazy is when using the same assets, which are licensed and copyrighted by id Software’s parent company.

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