Understanding ‘Open’ Terminology & Solutions

Having heard so many people using the terms ‘open systems’, ‘open computing’, and ‘open source’ interchangeably, believing they all mean the same thing, it seemed appropriate to write a short blog defining some of these terms and soliciting input on other ‘open’ terminology.

In general, the term ‘Open’ often refers to initiatives whose inner workings are exposed to the public and are capable of being further modified or improved by any qualified individual or organization. ‘Open’ is the opposite of ‘proprietary’ or ‘closed’ environments. In the case of software this would mean that the source code is either open for all to access such as the Linux operating system or closed such as Windows XP where only Microsoft programmers are able to change the source code. Other ‘open’ terminology often loosely bandied about include:

· Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) – FOSS refers to a software program in which the source code is available to anyone for use. It can be modified by anyone from its original design free of up-front license fees. The source code is available for review, modification, and sharing by the at-large community.
· Open Standards – Open Standards are the set of specifications developed to define interoperability between diverse systems. The standards are owned and maintained by a vendor-neutral organization rather than by a specific commercial developer.
· Open Systems – Hardware and/or software systems that use or adhere to open standards and are interoperable to some degree. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_systems
· Open Architecture – An Information Technology (IT) architecture whose specifications are open and available to the public and that provide a platform for interoperability.
· Open Access – Access via the Internet to published articles, journals, books, and other literature free of most pricing, copyright, and licensing restrictions.
· Open Data – Data that anyone is free to use, reuse and redistribute without restriction. For more detail, see http://opendefinition.org
· Open Data Format – A standard way for describing data formats, per the “Open Data Format Initiative (ODFI)”, and a program to validate that a data file is “ODFI compliant”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument
· Open Community – An environment in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is loosely coordinated into large, meaningful collaborative projects and generally avoids the traditional hierarchical organization structure many are used to seeing..
· Open Computing – This is a general term used to describe an “open” philosophy in building information technology (IT) systems. It represents the principle that includes architecture and technology procurement policies and practices that align IT with the goals of an open interoperable computer systems environment.
· Open Knowledge – An open system of knowledge transfer using the Internet and other information technologies to share best practices, emerging practices, knowledge and innovations within one or more “Community of Practice (CoP)” or across organizational boundaries. Visit http://okfn.org
· Open Publication License (OPL) – This is a license used for creating free and open publications created by the Open Content Project. Other alternatives include the Creative Commons licenses, the GNU Free Documentation License and the Free Art License. See http://opencontent.org/openpub/

Have you heard some other ‘open’ terminology being used that you can take a shot at defining and share with us? ‘Open’ Government? ‘Open’ Politics? ‘Open’ Health?

* Check out the non-profit: COSI Open Solutions

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Christopher Whitaker

I forget who came up with the analogy, but I like the cake analogy when it comes to open data. If you can slice it how you want and take it with you fairly easily – it’s open. If it’s not in a format that’s easy to slice and take out, it’s not open.