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Free for All: Open Source Software

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So what is open source software (OSS)? It’s software that is free in every sense of the word: free to download, free to use, and free to view or modify. Most OSS is distributed on the Web and you don’t need to sign a license agreement to use it.

In fact, you’re probably using OSS and may not know it. If you use the Firefox Web browser or WordPress blogging software, you’re using open source software. Additionally, many commercial Web giants, such as Amazon, rely on open source software such as Linux or Apache to power their services. OSS could be powering your cell phone or DVD player, or even the onboard entertainment on your latest airline flight.

In the last decade, OSS products have extended to libraries. In some ways, the emergence of open source software brings us full circle to where we were 30 years ago, when librarians were leading innovators who developed their own cataloging programs.

Some library software projects are relatively small, such as LibX, a browser toolbar that gives users one-stop access to library catalogs, databases, and more, while some are more ambitious. Fish4Info, VuFind, Blacklight, and Libraryfind are all Web programs that can replace the public interface of your catalogs with software that has more user-friendly capabilities, such as spell-check, tagging, user reviews, or the ability to search across catalogs and databases.

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