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What is FOSS, and Why Should You Care?

The Elephant and the Blind People

  • June 1, 2010
  • By Bruce Byfield
Bruce Byfield

FOSS is an abbreviation for Free and Open Source Software. In other words, FOSS is software whose source code is openly available. People can install and even modify FOSS as they please, so long as they follow a few basic requirements listed in the license. This arrangement makes FOSS the opposite of proprietary software, and one of the most original developments in the history of IT.

FOSS is a combination of two terms, free software and open source. Both free software and open source refer to software that is licensed in the same way, but the separate terms imply a difference in the reasons for the licensing.

For most free software supporters, the licensing is a way to ensure software freedom, or the ability of users to control their computers and their contents. By contrast, for most open source supporters, the licensing is a way to improve the quality of software. The open source argument is that, because the source code is available, bugs will be more easily discovered -- or, as Eric S. Raymond put it, "with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow."

However, this distinction is not as clear cut as it seems. To start with, some open source advocates such as Linus Torvalds have been known to argue that quality software is simply the means of ensuring software freedom. For another, the first people to use the open source label deliberately distanced themselves from free software, a decision that has left lasting animosities.

And finally, just to confuse the issue, some people insist that the terms are completely interchangeable. Certainly, individual and corporate memberships in the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative often overlap. Unofficially, "open source" tends to be used in a business context, but...

Read the rest of this Free/Open Source Software story at Datamation.com

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