Free and Open Source Software

A few examples of Free and Open Source Software include Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email client, and the OpenOffice productivity suite. There are FOSS versions of office software, graphics and video editing software, and even operating systems that run the whole computer. An example of a FOSS operating system is Linux, and there are many systems or "distributions" based on Linux such as Debian, Ubuntu, or OpenSUSE. A non-Linux but Unix-like distro is FreeBSD which is also open source and was also the original basis for Mac OSX (OSX is now closed-source and non-free).

The term "Open Source" refers to the programmer's source code that was written as the basis for the finished program or software we might use. It's open in the sense that anyone can see the original programming code (if they want). It's free in the sense that it is freely available, free as in speech and is usually downloadable from the Internet, although many thousands of FOSS programs are also free as in beer so no charge is levvied for your use of it.

Closed source or proprietary software on the other hand is written in secret and nobody apart from the developers really knows what's happening under the surface. The vendor then sells it to you at a price.

Please note: NOT all software which has no cost is Free and Open Source. "Freebies" are often closed source and so the source code is still hidden.

Which is better? FOSS or proprietary? The answer can often depend on what suits your needs. For instance, one person may have hundreds of saved files in a published document format that can only be opened by his proprietary software, whereas someone just starting to make such documents may be able to use Scribus or Inkscape. Even so, many proprietary file types such as .xlsx .docx & .ai can be opened and edited by FOSS software so pre-existing files do not necessarily preclude the use of open source software packages. FOSS software tends to be more secure and less vulnerable to attack partly because other programmers can scrutinize the source code and may spot errors and weaknesses, and partly because the developer's personal pride makes him do a good job before his code goes on display for the world to see. FOSS software is often distributed under the GPL (GNU General Public License) and this license is much less restrictive regarding what the end user is allowed to do with the software. You can legally copy, distribute, and even edit the software to suit your needs. If changes are made then the software is re-distributed under the same license, the GPL requires you to make your changed source code freely available as well. "Free" can also refer to how the end user feels when using this software. No need to worry if an employee installed a copy of your FOSS software on his grandmother's computer at the weekend!

Davel Technology now uses Free and Open Source Software almost exclusively on all our computers. For us, it is a much better option than proprietary software because it allows us to support many data types used by our clients without fear of licensing and legal issues. We can help you find FOSS packages to suit your particular business, help you to start using them, and even save you some money.

Advantages of open source software:

  • licensing costs often non-existent
  • all staff using the same version of software
  • you're encouraged to use the latest versions as they become available
  • compliant with a better array of standards (useful in multi-national scenarios)
  • help and assistance from the open source community
  • security and stability usually better
  • you can become involved in the development of software, perhaps suggesting improvements or reporting bugs directly to developers

computer Here in Britain, we've been used to proprietary software licensing and most of us assume that there's nothing else out there. However, the reality is that there's a world of choice that can fill our needs both technical and financial.

Before you go to purchase the next batch of licenses for the latest software with a fat roll of cash in your hand, why not ask us if there's a Free and Open Source Software equivalent available? We can even install a copy or two for you to test and use. Of course it will be a fully functional copy and not a crippled demo. With FOSS, you're free to do just that, and much more besides.

The Open Source Movement

The principles of open source have been used since the 1960's when companies freely shared technical designs, standards and methods in telecommunications that led to universal standards which in turn allowed the Internet to be "born". The following from the Open Source Initiative website: Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community. One of our most important activities is as a standards body, maintaining the Open Source Definition for the good of the community. The Open Source Initiative Approved License trademark and program creates a nexus of trust around which developers, users, corporations and governments can organize open-source cooperation.