How open source supports the Internet
The scale and reliability of the Internet has largely been possible through open source. No single company or organization could manage such a large network, so everyone agreed on certain rules (i.e. open formats and protocols). These rules dictate how desktop computers talk to servers and how servers talk to each other.
One such rule is the Internet Protocol (IP) address. Every public server has an IP address. People prefer to enter text addresses (e.g. www.yahoo.com, email@example.com) but computers need IP addresses (e.g. 184.108.40.206) to find each other. The translation software is open source and everyone uses the same address list. This way anyone on the Internet can find anyone else.
Various software companies offer proprietary Internet solutions. These solutions are built on or around open source and are compatible with similar proprietary and open source software. This prevents a single company from controlling the Internet, as Microsoft and Netscape tried to do.
The rules change as new features or services are delivered through the Internet. The open source model has excelled at adapting old solutions and creating new ones. As companies try new strategies like online retailing, they depend on Internet software. They often choose open source software like Apache.
The Internet is not completely dependent on open source. Proprietary programs like Adobe Acrobat have become reliable solutions. However, without open source it is doubtful that the Internet would have become as large, diverse, and reliable as quickly.
How the community uses the Internet
The open source movement is an Internet phenomenon. While plenty of programmers and proponents work and socialize offline, the driving force behind open source is computer networking. Foremost, open source software is usually downloaded rather than purchased. Patches and other improvements are just as accessible. When users need solutions, they can often get the software immediately.
In addition to distributing and supporting their software, most open source projects depend on the Internet to coordinate and collaborate. Programmers exchange source code almost instantaneously. They use email lists and Web sites for planning, debate, feedback, and publicity. For example, thousands of projects use the SourceForge Web site to coordinate work. Many educators use the K12 Open Source Now mailing list to support one another and discuss issues specific to schools. Publicity is especially important because open source projects depend on volunteers. Projects use community sites like Slashdot to invite participation and celebrate project milestones.
The Internet serves the whole open source community, not just the programmers. Email lists and Web sites allow users to promote solutions, give feedback, and help each other learn and troubleshoot. Many educators enjoy and value this responsive, helpful community.
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This Web site was developed and maintained by the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium. The federal funding for the regional technology consortia program ended on September 30, 2005, and no further updates are planned unless additional funding becomes available. However, much of the content is still useful and NWREL will continue to provide access to this site to support educators and to meet its own technical assistance needs.