Open Source Software

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This is an article about the use or potential use of open source software for laboratory automation.

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History of Open Source Software

When programmers felt hemmed in by commercial operating systems back in 1983, the open-source software movement was born. Open source software is developed by a community of developers and users, with source code open to all and royalty-free licensing. The "community" develops, modifies and evolves open-source software over time. The GNU project is the best known of these early efforts, focused on creating a non-Unix, but Unix-like OS (GNU stands for Gnu's Not Unix). Through some twists and turns, this movement eventually led in the 1990's the creation of the Linux open-source operating system (or GNU/Linux if you're into the debate of who should get credit). From humble beginnings, Linux can now functions as the OS of choice for large server farms sold by the likes of HP, Dell, IBM and Sun, as well as for the TiVo device sitting in many home entertainment systems. If one wanted to install Linux on their PC, it'd be free, and it'd be open for modifications which could be contributed back to the community.

Open Source and Lab Automation

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Open source frameworks for laboratory automation has significant potential to accelerate productivity.  Typically, individual experiments are written as isolated scripts, and are not integrated into a larger framework.  By contributing and integrating the individual software solutions into a larger framework, especially when using a plug-in architecture, an open source automation solution can acheive considerable scale in terms of feature set and stability.  Open source software traditionally adds Internet feature sets, remote use capabilities, open data interchange formats, readable source code, and so on.  Growth in open standardization follows open source development, thus accelerating adoption of best practices engineering (Discussion of Open-Source Methodologies in Laboratory Automation, doi:10.1016/j.jala.2008.12.004).