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Writing About Open Source: The Grammar of OSS

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Writing About Open Source: The Grammar of OSS

Planning to share your open source development knowledge? Here are some tips to make sure you can confidently write about open source and its related concepts.

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"Open source" refers to the creation and community of software that can be observed and modified by anyone. It's rapidly gaining significance, and we've already seen our contributors sharing articles on open source topics. As the community hosting your articles, DZone has set out to provide a quick guide to the grammatical aspects of writing about open source, to help you polish your articles on the open source community and software. If you're planning on writing about open source (or if you're super cutting edge, and you're already submitting open source content), this is the article for you.

Defining "Open Source"

Open source does not just mean "free." Although most open-source software is free of charge, open source is defined as "having the source code freely available for possible modification and redistribution" by Merriam-Webster. Some of the most popular open source projects include Ubuntu, MySQL, and Apache. The biggest programming language in the world, Java, is an open-source language.

The opposite of open source is proprietary software, for which someone retains intellectual property rights, is seldom free of charge, and cannot be modified or distributed by developers. This includes well-known software like Microsoft Windows. You can find a more extensive definition at the Open Source Initiative.

Open Source vs. Open-Source

Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced confusion over whether or not to hyphenate "open source." In fact, "open source" and "open-source" aren't the exact same thing.

"Open source" is a noun. You can talk about the open source community because it's a community dedicated to open source. Without the hyphen, it refers to the concept of open source. That's why DZone has the Open Source Zone, just like we have the Java Zone or the Cloud Zone. This would make you an open source developer — someone who contributes to the open source community.

"Open-source" is an adjective. That means we have open-source software or an open-source application. You use the hyphenated version when open-source is describing a type of application, plugin, or other software. 

OSS — Abbreviation

While it's tempting to just abbreviate open source as "OS," this isn't correct. The right way to abbreviate open source is OSS, or "open-source software." Make sure you get this one right so people can find your articles easily, even if they abbreviate and use OSS in their search terms.

"Open-Source" as a Verb

Many developers are using "open-source" colloquially as a verb, and it's making its way into writing on the subject — someone might say, "we open-sourced this code." This is generally accepted so far, but many agree that it could cause problems if you're not clear about the way you use it.

For example, if you're using open-source code, try saying, "We got the code from an open-source repo." If you made your own code available for modification and free use, you could say, "We made our project open-source." Using open-source as a verb might make sense to you, but it could confuse readers and those who want to contribute to your project.

I hope that these quick hints will help you write confidently and clearly about open-source software and the open source community!

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