Facts About FOSS
Table of Content
FOSS stands for 'Free and Open Source Software.FOSS allows an individual the freedom and right to use software licensed under an open source agreement.The individual may use the software as it is or may make changes as needed.
According to Free Software Foundation (FSF),Free software is a matter of the users freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
At the heart of FSF is the freedom to cooperate. Because non-free (free as in freedom, not price) software restricts the freedom to cooperate, FSF considers non-free software unethical. FSF is also opposed to software patents and additional restrictions to existing copyright laws. All of these restrict the four user freedoms listed above. “Free software” does not mean “noncommercial.” A free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. Commercial development of free software is no longer unusual; such free commercial software is very important. You may have paid money to get copies of free software, or you may have obtained copies at no charge. But regardless of how you got your copies, you always have the freedom to copy and change the software, even to sell copies.
According to OSI , The basic idea behind open source is “ When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.” The OSI is focused on the technical values of making powerful, reliable software, and is more business-friendly than the FSF. It is less focused on the moral issues of Free Software and more on the practical advantages of the FOSS distributed development method. While the fundamental philosophy of the two movements are different, both FSF and OSI share the same space and cooperate on practical grounds like software development, efforts against proprietary software, software patents, and the like.
- The availability of the source code.
- The right of code modification,improvement and redistribution.
- Large base of developers and users.
- Low cost software (TCO).
- Have an alternative.
- Free marketing and support for your project.
The popular myth surrounding Free/Open Source Software is that it is always “free”— that is, “free of charge.” To a certain degree this is true. No true FOSS application charges a licensing fee for usage. Most FOSS distributions (Red Hat, SuSE, Debian, etc.) can be obtained at no charge off the Internet. On a licensing cost basis, FOSS applications are almost always cheaper than proprietary software. However, licensing costs are not the only costs of a software package or infrastructure. It is also necessary to consider personnel costs, hardware requirements, opportunity costs and training costs. Often referred to as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), these costs give the clearest picture of the savings from using FOSS.
Besides the low cost of FOSS, there are many other reasons why organizations are aggressively adopting FOSS. These include:
a) Developing local capacity/industry
b) Reducing imports/conserving foreign exchange
c ) Enhancing national security
d) Reducing copyright infringements
e) Enabling localization
a) Developing local capacity/industry
Developing local capacity falls into two main categories: the capacity to use and the capacity to develop software. although interrelated, FOSS assists in their development in different ways.
The local capacity to utilize ICTs is traditionally held back by the high cost of both hardware and software.The ability to participate in the information society and build local knowledge communities is severely constrained when the cost of a basic operating system is equivalent to several years’ wages for the average citizen. FOSS alleviates this situation (though it can never totally eliminate it) in two ways: zero licensing cost and free redistribution. It is possible to obtain FOSS for almost any conceivable purpose without any licensing costs, thus reducing the cost barrier. FOSS is also freely redistributable, meaning that anyone can share software with a neighbour in need. Free (the F in FOSS) Software, in particular, holds this as one of its fundamental principles. Traditional proprietary software, no matter how low the costs, often cannot be freely redistributed in this manner.
A common problem faced by developing nations is the lack of development capacity. Where does a country obtain the human capacity required to sustain an ICT infrastructure? In this area, FOSS excels.For most developing countries, it is not that FOSS will make a non-existent industry more competitive but, rather, it allows a developing nation to kick-start its ICT industry and advance to a stage where it can begin to fully utilize the benefits of ICT internally. It has been noted that there is a positive correlation between the growth of a FOSS developer base and the innovative software capacities of an economy. A report from the International Institute of Infonomics lists manythree reasons for this.
1)Low barriers to entry:FOSS, which encourages free modification and redistribution, is easy to obtain, use and learn from.FOSS allows developers to build on existing knowledge and pre-built components,much like basic research
2)FOSS as an excellent training system:The open and collaborative nature of FOSS allows a student or software engineer to examine and experiment with software concepts at virtually no direct cost to society. Apart from the source code and software tools that FOSS provides, there are many technical manuals, guides and ‘how-tos’ provided in every FOSS distribution.
3)FOSS as a source of standards:FOSS often becomes a de facto standard by virtue of its dominance in a particular sector of an industry. By being involved in setting the standards in a particular FOSS application, a region can ensure that the standard produced takes into account regional needs and cultural considerations.
Additionally, the current business models structured around FOSS are primarily based on services, rather than on products. This makes it much more likely that a FOSS based company will have the majority of its staff in the country that it sells to and will thus reinvest its profits there.
b) Reducing Imports/Conserving Foreign Exchange
FOSS, by the nature of its licensing terms, can be obtained at little or no cost, and therefore, saves a massive amount of foreign exchange.
c) Enhancing National Security
Proprietary software is normally distributed in binary format; therefore it is difficult to reverse-engineer and to understand exactly what a program does. Although the opaqueness of the binary format offers limited protection to the intellectual property of the software maker, it engenders mistrust and suspicion.
d) Reducing Copyright Infringements
Copyright infringements in the form of unauthorized duplication of software (often called software piracy) are a problem in almost every country around the world. The Business Software Alliance estimates that unauthorized software copying in 2002 alone costed US$13.08 billion. Even in developed nations where software is affordable in theory, software copyright infringement rates were as high as 24 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe. The rates in developing countries, where lower incomes make software far more expensive, are upwards of 90 percent.Copyright infringement and lax laws can and often do hurt a country in many ways. A country with a poor track record in copyright protection is not as attractive to foreign investors.
e) Enabling Localization
Countries where English is not commonly spoken can be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the uptake and dissemination of ICTs. If the country and language are not deemed to be commercially important, proprietary software makers may not choose to produce a localized version of their software, thereby increasing the barriers to ICT usage.Localization is one of the areas where FOSS becomes a preferred option because of its open nature.Users are able to modify FOSS to suit the unique requirements of a particular cultural region, regardless of economic size. All that is needed is a number of individuals possessing the technical capability to create a minimally localized version of any FOSS. While the construction of a completely localized software platform is no small feat, it is at least possible. Microsoft’s decision in 1998 against producing an Icelandic version of Windows 98 would have made computing in Iceland’s national language almost impossible if it were not for the emergence of FOSS alternatives.Few countries cite localization as a motivating factor but localization efforts exist in most non-English speaking countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
a) Increasing competition
b) Reducing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
c) Enhancing security
d) Achieving vendor independence
a) Increasing Competition
FOSS breaks down the barriers to entry by providing to software companies a feature-rich, high-quality base of software to build on. When utilizing FOSS, software companies compete on the services and additional innovations that they add to the existing FOSS base, rather than reaping financial benefits from research and development performed many years ago. Depending on the FOSS license and corporate business model, these benefits often find their way back into the FOSS base, resulting in a larger base of software for new entrants to build on. New entrants into the software industry do not need to spend decades reinventing existing software. Instead, they are free to focus on innovations and the additional functionality that the market demands.
b) Reducing Total Cost of Ownership
FOSS applications save money in several ways. The most obvious is through the lack of licensing fees,since FOSS can be freely redistributed without licensing fees. However, FOSS also lowers costs through means that can be much harder to quantify, such as better security, ease of administration, cross-platform availability, and others. There are only a limited number of TCO studies showing the total cost of running FOSS systems versus proprietary systems. These studies analyze multiple cost factors other than software licensing costs,including maintenance, personnel and opportunity costs from service disruptions. Several have been very positive towards FOSS:
1)A TCO study performed by the Robert Frances Group showed that GNU/Linux costs roughly 40 percent of Microsoft Windows and as low as 14 percent of Sun Microsystem’s Solaris.
2)NetProject reported that the TCO of GNU/Linux was 35 percent of Microsoft Window’s TCO.Even more interesting was that the saving was due not just to licensing costs but also various other costs, including reduction in the number of support staff and software updates that results from using GNU/Linux.
3)Gartner reported that using GNU/Linux in a “locked” configuration resulted in a roughly 15 percent lower TCO compared to Windows XP.
Increasing access to information
Hacking attempts on servers are frequent, malware, trojans and viruses are commonplace and tools to help the hacker are readily available. No software is 100% immune from security vulnerabilities but the open source process itself delivers superior security performance.The Open Source development model and inherent security of Linux mean vastly improved protection from attack, and consequently less downtime and maintenance costs. Of the 1709 viruses reported in the latest "wildlist.org" report for March 2007, NONE of them would infect a Linux based computer. When a vulnerability is identified, it is often fixed in a matter of hours; proprietary software vendors sometimes take months to even announce the existence of a problem to its customers. Three reasons are often cited for FOSS’s better security record: 1. Availability of source code: The availability of the source code for FOSS systems has made it easier for developers and users to discover and fix vulnerabilities, often before a flaw can be exploited. Many of the vulnerabilities of FOSS listed in Bugtraq were errors discovered during periodic audits and fixed without any known exploits. FOSS systems normally employ proactive rather than reactive audits. 2. Security focus, instead of user-friendliness: FOSS can be said to run a large part of the Internet25 and is therefore more focused on robustness and functionality, rather than ease of use. Before features are added to any major FOSS application, its security considerations are considered and the feature is added only if it is determined not to compromise system security. 3. Roots: FOSS systems are mostly based on the multi-user, network-ready Unix model. Because of this, they come with a strong security and permission structure. Such models were critical when multiple users shared a single powerful server—that is, if security was weak, a single user could crash the server, steal private data from other users or deprive other users of computing resources. Consequently, vulnerabilities in most applications result in only a limited security breach.
FOSS systems are well known for their stability and reliability. There are many anecdotal stories of FOSS servers functioning for years without requiring maintenance. However, quantitative studies are more difficult to come by. In 1999 Zdnet ran a 10-month reliability test between Red Hat Linux, Caldera Systems OpenLinux and Microsoft’s Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3. All three ran on identical hardware systems and performed printing, web serving and file serving functions. The result was that NT crashed once every six weeks but none of the FOSS systems crashed at all during the entire 10 months.
3) Piracy, IPR, and WTO :
Software piracy is a problem in almost every country around the world. The Business Software Alliance estimates that software piracy in 2002 alone cost US$13.08 billion. Even in developed nations where software is affordable in theory, piracy rates were as high as 24 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe. Piracy rates in developing countries, where lower incomes make software far more expensive, are upwards of 90 percent. Software piracy and lax laws against it can and does hurt a country in many ways. A country with poor protection for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is not as attractive to foreign investors. Membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and access to its benefits are strongly affected by the level of protection given to IPR in a country. Finally, a culture of software piracy hurts local software development, as there is less incentive for local software developers to create a local product.
- Hundreds of licenses are available for FOSS.
- FSF-approved licenses: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html
- OSI-approved licenses:. http://www.opensource.org/licenses
- Some Popular licenses of FOSS are listed below :
- Mandating FOSS
- Preferring FOSS
- Mandating Open Standards
- Best Value
Computer labs with FOSS installed :
These projects have been carried out in various countries, through which FOSS has been introduced to students. FOSS systems were utilized to reduce expenses but this also had the added advantage of introducing an entire generation of students to FOSS relatively painlessly. Implementing an initiative such as this requires a minimum level of FOSS capacity within the country to support the school computers.
Ensuring that curriculum is vendor neutral :
Many ICT literacy and computer science programs in schools today, even at the university level, are written with a specific proprietary software suite in mind. By ensuring that the teaching of ICT concepts is decoupled from vendor-specific skills, a more level competitive field can be achieved. In most cases, ICT skills can be taught on many platforms. For instance, basic ICT literacy skills such as email, web browsing and word processing can be taught on multiple proprietary and FOSS platforms. It may even be beneficial for students to experience two different implementations of a certain concept (one proprietary, one FOSS) to ensure that the students learn flexible skills that can be easily transferred from one system to another. This does place an extra burden on both educators and students.
a) GPL – GNU General Public License
The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) is the most widely used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman for the GNU project. The GPL is the first copyleft license for general use, which means that derived works can only be distributed under the same license terms. Under this philosophy, the GPL grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the free software definition and uses copyleft to ensure the freedoms are preserved, even when the work is changed or added to. This is in distinction to permissive free software licenses, of which the BSD licenses are the standard examples. The text of the GPL is not itself under the GPL. The license's copyright disallows modification of the license. Copying and distributing the license is allowed since the GPL requires recipients get "a copy of this License along with the Program".According to the GPL FAQ, anyone can make a new license using a modified version of the GPL as long as he or she uses a different name for the license, doesn't mention "GNU", and removes the preamble, though the preamble can be used in a modified license if permission to use it is obtained from the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Developers that use the GNU GPL protect your rights with two steps: (1) assert copyright on the software, and (2) offer you this License giving you legal permission to copy, distribute and/or modify it. For the developers' and authors' protection, the GPL clearly explains that there is no warranty for this free software. For both users' and authors' sake, the GPL requires that modified versions be marked as changed, so that their problems will not be attributed erroneously to authors of previous versions.
b) GLPL - GNU Lesser General Public License
The GNU Lesser General Public License (formerly the GNU Library General Public License) or LGPL is a free software license published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). It was designed as a compromise between the strong-copyleft GNU General Public License or GPL and permissive licenses such as the BSD licenses and the MIT License. The GNU Library General Public License (as the LGPL was originally named) was published in 1991, and was the version number 2 for parity with GPL version 2. The LGPL was revised in minor ways in the 2.1 point release, published in 1999, when it was renamed the GNU Lesser General Public License to reflect the FSF's position that not all libraries should use it. Version 3 of the LGPL was published in 2007 as a list of additional permissions applied to GPL version 3. The LGPL places copyleft restrictions on the program itself but does not apply these restrictions to other software that merely links with the program. There are, however, certain other restrictions on this software. The LGPL is primarily used for software libraries, although it is also used by some stand-alone applications, most notably OpenOffice.org and sometimes media as well.
c) MPL – Mozilla Public license
The Mozilla Public License (MPL) is a free and open source software license. Version 1.0 was developed by Mitchell Baker .The MPL is characterized as a hybridization of the modified BSD license and GNU General Public License. The MPL is the license for the Mozilla Application Suite, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird and other Mozilla software. The MPL has been adapted by others as a license for their software, most notably Sun Microsystems, as the Common Development and Distribution License for OpenSolaris, the open source version of the Solaris 10 operating system, and by Adobe, as the license for its Flex product line
FOSS promotion strategies via government procurement throughout the world fall into four broad categories. They are:
This is the most radical approach as it mandates the usage of FOSS systems throughout the government sector. In some countries, this means replacing the entire existing proprietary infrastructure, which involves large implementation and training costs. Although a number of proposals (legislative or otherwise) to this effect have been submitted, to date few have passed. The high costs and risks involved are the main deterrents in this approach. Other countries have chosen the less painful route of mandating FOSS for all new procurement. More conservative approaches such as this are somewhat more common. Countries that mandate the change of only a proportion of the infrastructure over to FOSS include Brazil (80 percent of all systems), South Korea (20-30 percent of all systems) and Thailand. This approach greatly promotes FOSS usage and capacity in the local economy. However, the criticism is that this is done at the expense of the proprietary software industry. Certain economically advanced countries have also criticized such policies as being protectionist and against the spirit of free trade. China has a policy of blocking of foreign software usage in government offices. This does not mandate FOSS per se but it has a strong stimulating effect. The policy considers locally packaged FOSS systems as local software, even if the international FOSS community produces the majority of its components.
Recognizing the difficulty of switching the entire government infrastructure over to FOSS, many governments have moderated their approach by preferring FOSS solutions for the new procurements. When all traditional commercial measures are equal (functionality, TCO, risks, stability, etc.) then the FOSS solutions are selected in recognition of the social benefits, which can be hard to quantify. This approach has the benefit of being easier and less risky to implement. It is also more flexible, allowing procurements to be decided on a case by case basis, taking into account factors such as the possible lack of a local developer pool. However, the weaker mandate may not be enough to counter the advantage that proprietary software enjoy when there is an established proprietary system.
Mandating Open Standards
Mandating open standards often has a complementary effect on FOSS systems. One of the most effective ways in which software vendors lock in their users is the use of proprietary standards. FOSS systems are at a disadvantage in a mostly proprietary software environment due to the lack of interoperability. The mandating of open standards would level the playing field and introduce increased competition, not just between proprietary software and FOSS but also between different proprietary software solutions. However, this often requires modifying procedures and legacy documents that are still stored using proprietary standards. The two areas often targeted by open standards advocates are documents and web standards. Text documents and spreadsheets are typically stored in proprietary formats and may not be retrievable without the proper proprietary software, thus impeding the free exchange of information. Proprietary, closed web standards are ironic, since the World Wide Web is primarily based upon open standards. However, the dominance of a single web browser and its complementary web development tools from the same vendor have resulted in many Web sites being created using non-standards compliant HTML tags that are only accessible using Internet Explorer even though it would take minimal effort to make these sites cross-platform. Emphasis on open standards is strongest in countries with mature ICT industries and infrastructure. The European Union, the United Kingdom, certain states within the United States and New Zealand are among the governments supporting open standards.
The traditional educational structure, starting from primary schools up through to the university level, can often be an excellent training ground for FOSS. There are a wide number of strategies in this sector, too many to be listed exhaustively. Some of the more common strategies include:
The main difference between FOSS and proprietary software resides in the license under which it is made available. FOSS is developed in an open manner in which the end users of the software are able to participate. They may participate by answering the questions of other end users.They can also contribute to the documentation of the software and its use.
Since the users of FOSS have access to the source code, they can modify their local copies and make changes that they would like to implement. The FOSS license under which they received the code permits them to make such modifications.But, in the case of proprietary softwares the users do not have access to the source code ans hence they cannot make any changes in the code.
The original FOSS software as well as the modifies one can be passed on to others freely.As long as the terms of the FOSS license are met, users can do whatever they like to do with this software. Since FOSS software has this redistribution freedom, it tends to be distributed at minimal or no cost. But,this is not possible with proprietary softwares.
Since access to source code is access to knowledge,The users of FOSS can acquire good programming knowledge too.