Quinn first explains that open source isn’t a type of software, but an “ethic behind the software.”
Hang in there. It comes together, I promise.
She quickly redeems herself. See, open source is a development method for software and licensing that typically is created by a group to meet the needs of a community. It’s also free.
The exciting part is that this method provides groups such as nonprofits with access to the software’s code, therefore allowing users to upgrade the software, add features and build applications that will work with it.
“The code is completely for anyone to access,” Quinn says, “offering the user flexibility” — unlike proprietary software, where you have to work with what you’ve got.
Quinn turns to Microsoft Word as an example. (Awesome — a computer term I know well.) She explains that you can’t one day be working in Microsoft Word and decide, “Hey, I think I’m going to move the print menu from the left side of the screen to the right.”
“There’s no flexibility there because it’s proprietary,” she says. “In open source, no one owns the code so anyone who is qualified can update the software.”
So, a nonprofit could customize an open-source software package to create a database to donors the way it wants to track them.
But Quinn cautions that, like most things in life, open source isn’t completely free.
“It’s free to acquire, but getting [open source] up and running is another story,” she says, adding that nonprofits have to be “fairly technical” or have someone on staff who is able to install and maintain it. If not, she says, a nonprofit will have to hire a consultant or a programmer to do it.
There are plenty of well-known open-source packages out there. Quinn mentions Joomla!, a content-management system that helps groups build Web sites and other online applications; Drupal, a content-management platform; and Moodle, a course-management system for educators.