Open source technology is a means of developing computer software through a more collaborative approach than most traditional software. When software is considered "open source," all or part of its source code is made available to the public or purchasers of the software. This allows programmers to modify or augment the software for their needs or the needs of others.
However, "open source" is a term with varying degrees of "openness." At its most basic, it implies that modifications can be made. Going a step further, it can also mean that users are kept up to date by the creators on the development of the software and can influence the choices made. It also depends on the terms of the licensing agreement as to whether or not modified versions of the software can be sold commercially.
Developing open source software boasts a number of advantages for developers and customers. Since the source code is available for all to see, this allows both developers and users to search for bugs. This potentially allows for a more stable, well-tested product. Open source allows for more ideas to be pooled together, making for quicker refinement and innovation. It also helps develop brand loyalty, as users have a hand in the product development and become invested in its success. Most importantly, open source software is frequently far less expensive to develop and purchase.
The downsides of open source software are few but notable. If a company is especially concerned with how the modification of its software may affect its image should avoid open source. Allowing everyone to see source code means that competitors will see the source code. While this makes for good competition, it can also make for copycats developing inferior products aping the original. As far as users are concerned, caution should be exercised when utilizing some open source software, as there may be few resources for technical support when a problem arises.
For smartphones and tablets, the most notable example of open source technology is Google's Android OS. The open source nature of the OS has allowed wireless service carriers and retailers to customize the models they sell. The Google Play Store is especially notable for its wide variety of user-generated applications, which are largely made possible by the OS's open source flexibility.
For PC users, the Linux operating system has been a long-standing example of open source software. Originally released in 1991, it has always been a favorite of the technologically-inclined for its malleability and potential for deep, specialized customization. Modified versions of Linux can even be distributed commercially. The previously mentioned Android OS is actually based off of the Linux framework, which makes the open source nature very fitting.