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System monitoring programs exist to provide feedback and spot problems with different aspects of computer systems such as checking the temperature of the central processing unit, ensuring that all servers are working properly, or spotting problems with pieces of the computer's hardware. Additionally, system monitoring programs can provide feedback on how well the computer is performing compared to other computers with similar hardware, letting the end user know if there might be something bogging down the performance of his or her system. Open source system monitoring refers to system monitoring programs which have openly available and freely modifiable source code, allowing a level of customization not typically seen in closed-source system monitoring programs.
An open source program is one where the underlying source code of the program is freely available to the public. Under normal closed-source programming, while the end user can run the software, he or she is not permitted to view, access, change, or modify the source code running the program. The end user is never able to add new features to the program, or even adjust features that are bugged or corrupted; he or she must instead wait for the developer to address any issues through periodic patches of the source code.
As a result, the end user is only able to receive feedback on whichever aspects the monitoring program was originally intended to monitor. This can become a problem when a problem arises and another aspect of the computer system needs to be monitored, but can't due to the inflexibility of a closed-source system.
Open source system monitoring programs eliminate these limitations by freely permitting all end users of the program to change, add to, delete, or otherwise modify the code running the program. Through this, skilled end users can add new features to the original system monitoring program—features the developer might have been forced to cut through budget restrictions or time constraints.
As all users of the program have the ability to make these changes, over time new "user-created" versions of the open source system monitoring program will become available, containing many new features to permit the user to monitor his or her system in new and interesting ways. With an open source system, a user can change the program to monitor different aspects, thereby catching new problems that may have gone unnoticed before.
Not only does open source system monitoring offer greater flexibility, but this evolution to open source system monitoring allows for a higher level of collaborative computing. Programmers and the final users of a product work together to provide a system monitoring program that is more complete than either could provide on their own. In addition to this, open source system monitoring programs are typically freeware, able to be downloaded and run at no charge to the end user. On the other hand, making multiple changes to the system, by various people, can result in confusion and miscommunication, or perhaps the desired feedback will not be received.
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