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Open Source v/s Open APIs

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Open Source v/s Open APIs

Many of us believe that open APIs and open source is somehow the same thing. As in “if we open an API does that mean we will open source our software?”Obviously Not!! Both open source and open APIs have to do with technology and both have the word “open” in them, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Open source: Open source software continues to be a critical part of software development, systems administration, IT operations and more that emerged in the late 1990s. Some of the best known open source projects are the popular Linux operating system, the Apache web server, the Firefox web browser. The core idea behind open source is to give away the source code to your software so that anyone can study, fix and improve it. This tends to produce better software and happier developers and clients. Open source, open standards, open clouds, and particularly open data continue to serve as pillars of modern IT openness. In the open source model the software development is decentralized, the software is yours to use and while you may never get another update to the code you at least have the code and could hire a developer to fix/update to meet your needs. Anyone can modify the software, independent of where they live or who they work for. The only centralized functions tend to be tracking changes to the software, enabling developers via collaboration tools and deciding which changes make it into the official version of the software. The benefit for customers is that they can add their own features and fixes.

Open APIs: “Open API” is also becoming very popular among technical software, for collaboration between different trades such as architects and engineers. Since there is different software for designing structures, buildings, these trades find a way to use each other’s work through “Open API”. For example, an architect can draw in CAD software and engineers can implement these plans into their software. The concept of open APIs is less evolved and understood than open source.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. APIs are a tool for programmers to make one piece of software talk to another piece of software. For example, if you develop a software application for Windows you use a series of Windows APIs that let you talk to the Windows operating system to do things like open or save files, draw windows and menus, etc.

With an Open API if the company shuts off the API you are out of luck.  The most recent example of this is the changes over at Twitter.  Twitter wanted to make money and changed how things worked to make it happen.  Unfortunately if you wrote an app that relied on something they removed from the API you are out of luck and get to re-write your app.

Conclusion: Even though they surprisingly often get lumped together, open source and open APIs are different and serve different purposes. Open APIs are rapidly becoming the best way to relieve the business development bottleneck and achieve rapid growth. Well designed open APIs – both technically (keep them simple and use standards) and from a business point of view (have clear self-serve usage rules and no adoption hurdles) – can be powerful tools for building great businesses. Just don’t confuse them with open source.