Saturday, May 9, 2015

Understanding 'Open' Terminology Today

Having heard so many people using the terms “open systems”, “open computing”, “open source”, and “open access” 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 systems such as MS Windows where only Microsoft programmers are able to change the source code.

Other ‘open’ terminology often loosely bandied about include:

  • Open Source Software (OSS) - OSS 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. It is also often referred to as Free & Open Source Software (FOSS).
  • Open Standards - 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 architecture and standards that support interoperable to some degree. See
  • Open Architecture - An Information Technology (IT) architecture whose specifications are open and available to the public and that provide a platform that enables continued evolution and interoperability. See
  • Open Access - Providing free and unrestricted access to journal articles, research findings, books, and other literature. See
  • Open Data – Data that anyone is free to use, reuse and redistribute without restriction. For more detail, see
  • 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
  • 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 closed organization structure many are used to seeing in the private sector.
  • 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
  • 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
  • Open Source Hardware - Hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the hardware based on that ‘open’ design. See

HOT NEWS - The War is Over: Open Source has Won. The growing global Open Movement has shifted its focus to Open Culture and Open Society.

We are now seeing the emergence of new, related terms like 'Open Movement', ‘Open Culture’ and ‘Open Society’ as more people and organizations around the world adopt ‘open’ technologies and solutions and embrace the philosophy behind them. They are defined as:

  • Open Movement - A broad-reaching social movement that has slowly grown in scope and strength over the past decades to become a major force helping to reshape the world we live in, the way we do business, and improving healthcare being provided to hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The movement now encompasses open source, open access, open data, open standards, open hardware, as well as open business models, open government, open leadership, and much more.
  • Open Culture - A growing social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works. The movement objects to over-restrictive copyright laws that restrict the free exchange of creative ideas and works.
  • Open Society - In open societies, citizens are encouraged to engage in critical thinking, facilitated by cultural and legal institutions that support the concepts of freedom and tolerance of diverse individual, groups, ideas, and beliefs.

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

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