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The Role that Open Source Software Plays in the Web’s Biggest Brands


Some people say that Open Source Software (OSS) sucks, and I guess in some ways I have to agree, because some of the less popular open source software projects often contain more than the average amount of really bad code. Not always, but generally speaking, minor OSS projects are quickly written and shared around the world, often being re-written several times along the way, though not always in good ways that might actually improve the software bugs.

Of course, open source isn’t always filled with bad code, and sometimes it actually improves how well things work.

There are some major pieces of open source software that are used behind the scenes by many of the web’s largest brands to deliver the sites that you love and enjoy each day, including the Linux operating system, the Apache web server that powers 53% of the web’s most popular sites and nginx (a new generation, high performance web server) runs on an additional 17% – combined, Apache and nginx are powering more than two thirds of the most popular web sites.

One such OSS project, OpenSSL, which is a free implementation of the Secure Sockets Layer protocol used by many web brands to deliver HTTPS functionality for their web sites has been in the news recently and getting a bit of a bad wrap because it had an undiscovered bug that has been in the software’s code since December 2011 nicknamed “Heartbleed” that allowed hackers to gain access to the usernames and passwords of internet users that have been using that server.

The great thing about the open source community though is that they are very quick to patch bugs in the large software projects that are used by many organisations.

Another huge benefit is that because the companies who push these free products to their limits, like Facebook, have access to the source code of these software programs, they are able to further modify and optimise them to run even more efficiently or handle the large volume of requests that their services put on these programs.

Over at Facebook’s Open Source page, they share the products and programs that they have developed from other open source products, as well as their optimised versions of popular products like MySQL.

Google are also another big contributor to open source projects – did you know that the Android mobile operating system is an open source project that has been developed by Google? Their web browser, Google Chrome, is also built on an open source product that they have developed, which they call Chromium. Their Open Source Projects page features both of these projects plus many others that their developers have built and continue to improve.

Finally, even Microsoft are part of the open source movement. Yes, you read that right. While their flagship products like Windows and Office remain closed source, they are also working to ensure that open source products can interoperate with Microsoft’s desktop and server products and in 2012 were listed as one of the top 5 contributors to the Linux project.

So, open source software isn’t all bad – and while many people don’t think that it’s ready for the average home user to run on their desktop, it is part of many peoples lives through the Android mobile operating system and behind the scenes helping to deliver their favourite web sites.