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"Open source" means that the source code of the software you use is freely available, so that anyone can download, use, modify, and redistribute it. Open source software began as a way for university research laboratories to share in the development of technology and has emerged as a major force in the software industry. Today, virtually all major software vendors use and contribute to open software, and open source software such as Linux, Apache, and MySQL power some of the largest companies in the world.
How It Works
Open source software is usually developed by collaborative communities of users and developers who communicate over the Internet and share in the development of software. In this highly collaborative environment, new features are developed and shared between the developers and community, and bugs and issues are freely communicated online.
At the heart of every open source project is a small core group of "committers," or developers with the ability to write changes into the project's source code repository. In addition to making regular code contributions themselves, these "committers" also review the contributions of other users and developers and accept the ones that meet the project's standards. Around this core group is the community of users and other contributors, who help make the software better by using it, finding and fixing bugs, and coming up with suggestions on how to make it better. Finally, all open source software together form a "Greater Community" by building off each other's work.