Open source software reflects traditional co-op values

Our manifesto recognises the importance of the community-based development of software that the open source software movement champions.

When you get a piece of software, why is it that more often than not, you lack access to its source code? Whilst this might not seem important to the overwhelming majority of users, more technical users would find themselves with the flexibility needed to adapt software to their needs. As users, not just employee developers, can contribute changes to open source software, it is often cheaper than their closed-source alternatives.

Most people will probably use open source software every day without realising it. I am typing this blog post in Firefox, an open source browser which has just reached its fifth birthday. Firefox is hugely popular because its open source, co-operative approach allows its users to shape its development. Even if you are not a Firefox user, you will probably access websites that are powered by the open source Apache server software.

Some of the most promising pieces of open source software are still very much in obscurity. The general public has not heard of Linux operating systems or OpenOffice.org. The private, public and third sectors are unwilling to adopt such software, because their staff have been trained in the Microsoft alternative. The schooling system, however, only trains people in Microsoft products, because that is what employers use. This is circular logic, and is an obstacle that must be defeated in order to further open source software.

The situation might become different in countries where IT is not already a daily part of life. Developing countries often use Linux in their education systems, because it saves them having to buy a Windows licence for every machine. It also often demands less resources than Windows, allowing cheaper hardware to be bought. Perhaps businesses in those countries will then use Linux too, because that is what their labour force know how to use.

Co-operation goes hand in hand with open source software. Co-operators believe in self-help, open source software allows users to fix their own problems. Co-operators believe in education, and open source projects often involve this and go to lengths to educate users about the software and open source movement. Open source software often builds on other open source software, an example of ‘Co-operation among Co-operatives’. Perhaps the most important thing that the movements have in common is a concern for the community; open source software’s aim is often to aid education, to help others and to help communities technologically progress.