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Diomidis Spinellis Publications

Open Source Software: A Survey from 10,000 Feet

Stephanos Androutsellis-Theotokis
Diomidis Spinellis
Maria Kechagia
Georgios Gousios


Open source software (OSS), the origins of which can be traced back to the 1950s, is software distributed with a license that allows access to its source code, free redistribution, the creation of derived works, and unrestricted use. OSS applications cover most areas of consumer and business software and their study touches many disciplines, including computer science, information systems, economics, psychology, and law. Behind a successful OSS project lies a community of actors, ranging from core developers to passive users, held together by a flexible governance structure and membership, leadership and contribution policies that align their interests. The motivation behind individuals participating in OSS projects can be, among others, social, ideological, hedonistic, or signaling, while companies gain from their access to high-quality, innovative projects and an increase in their reputation and visibility. Nowadays many business models rely on OSS as a product through the provision of associated services, or in coexistence with proprietary software, hardware, services, or licensing. The numerous OSS licenses mainly differ on how they treat derived software: some contain provisions that maintain its availability in open source form while others allow more flexibility. Through its widespread adoption, OSS is affecting the software industry, science, engineering, research, teaching, the developing countries, and the society at large through its ability to democratize technology and innovation.