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What is Free and Open Source Software?

  • Computer Science
  • Lesson 6 of 10

Free, open source software (or FOSS) is software that respects your freedoms and makes its source code available. Chances are you’re already using free, open-source software without even knowing it. In case you need more convincing, here are three undeniable reasons why you should start using FOSS now.

It’s Free

This one’s a no-brainer. Save your hard-earned Washington’s for the really important things in life. Like ice cream. It’s hard to argue with free. Or ice cream. But beyond its unbeatable price is the issue of accessibility. Many people use free, open-source software simply because they can’t afford or are uncomfortable using cracked proprietary packages. If and when you are using a proprietary software, file format or codec you are limiting access of your work to only those who also own(or have stolen) the rights.

It gets better. FOSS extends even as deep as your operating system. There is an abundance of GNU/Linux distributions available that are equal, if not superior to, anything you might pay for. And they are all free. Not only are they free, but you are free to do what you want with them. Modify, customize, tweak, redistribute… the sky is the limit.

It is true, though, that not all free software is free. It’s free as in speech, not as in root beer. But as an average user, it would be a rare situation to find yourself paying for something.

It Builds Community

Free, open-source software encourages diversity and sharing which in turn builds community. FOSS is developed through the free exchange of ideas and information. The more people share and communicate, the better the software will be.

Free, open-source software creates more choice for consumers. Proprietary software is often released under the “one-size-fits-all” philosophy. This makes sense from a business point of view when trying to maximize profits. But individuals approach software with their individual needs and want specific features that may or may not be included in a proprietary package. Because free, open-source software is open, anyone can and will customize it and add to its feature-set. It’s written to be extended. Even if you’re not a developer, you can generally contact one and suggest a new feature. If it’s a good idea, it will probably find its way into the source code.

Furthermore, free, open-source software is educational. Because it’s open, because anyone can look at it, anyone can learn from it.

It’s trustworthy

There are sometimes thousands of volunteers contributing to an application. Because of this there is an emphasis on quality and the development process can happen very quickly. With proprietary software you have to trust the claims of the vendor. Only their developers know what’s going on under the hood. Because the code is not subject to communal scrutiny, it’s probably not as good as it could be.

Also, if a proprietary software distributor goes belly up so does the software. Because no one technically owns FOSS its longevity is guaranteed. A software will only disappear as soon as no one is maintaining it. When that happens, you won’t mind. You will have moved on to something else long before then.

FOSS is safe, too. For example, Internet Explorer has historically been a very vulnerable piece of software for spyware, malware, viruses and other attacks. This sort of thing happens much less with free, open-source options such as Mozilla’s Firefox.

Here are some links to our favorite free, open-source software packages. I’m sure you’ll agree that FOSS is amazing.

  • Our favorite browser is Firefox.
  • For an office suite, try LibreOffice.
  • For image manipulation, GIMP and Inkscape are on par with Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • We use Blender for our animations. It has a steep learning curve but that’s because it’s super powerful.
  • Our favorite GNU/Linux flavor(at the time of this writing) is Mint.

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