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With open-source software, the world is your programer

Open-source software, formally termed "free software," is any software that publishes the source code from which the program was built.

It may seem pointless to publish the source code. As long as the program works, who wants to waste time looking at its innards?

The world, that's who.

In the field of cryptography, it's a known fact that to design a secure system you must be subject to peer review. Every aspect of your design is gone over by countless people throughout the world, who may see mistakes or offer suggestions you overlooked. This is the reason no one really trusts the National Security Agency's Clipper Chip. The algorithm used to design it was kept secret, hence you can't really be sure it works, can you?

Given the Internet's ability to facilitate communications with people worldwide, a community of people devoted to "open-source computing'" is growing steadily and gaining ground on traditional companies that prize privacy over quality.

The world's most popular Web server software, Apache, is an open source program. Both Microsoft and Netscape are fighting tooth-and-nail to gain market share on it.

Several powerful operating systems, such as Linux, were developed entirely on the Internet and are gaining recognition for their quality.

The Open Source Software model works because no one company can hire all of the world's good programers. By sharing your efforts with the world, you can.

_ The Florida Suncoast Linux Users Group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month in Science Room D03 of Thomas Jefferson High School, 4401 West Cypress, Tampa.