Free and open-source software (FOSS) is computer software that can be classified as a union of two software development models: free software and open-source software. First, anyone is licensed to freely use, copy, study, and change the software in any way. Second, the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. In contrast, is under restrictive copyright, and the source code is usually hidden from users.
Despite similarities in their development models, both "free software" and "open-source software" feature differing cultures and philosophies. "Free" refers to the users' freedom to copy and re-use the software. The Free Software Foundation, an organization that advocates the free software model, suggests that to understand the concept, one should "think of 'free' as in 'free speech,' not as in 'free beer'". while focusing on the fundamental freedoms it gives to users. The "open-source" component, however, focuses on the perceived strengths of its peer-to-peer development model. Despite these differences, the term "FOSS" can generally be used without particular bias towards either political approach.
The benefits of using FOSS potentially include decreasing software costs, increasing security and stability (especially in regard to malware), protecting privacy, and giving users more control over their software development.
In the 1950s and '60s, it was common for computer users to have the source code for all programs they used as well as the permission and ability to modify it for their own use. Software, including source code, was commonly shared by individuals who used computers. Most companies had a business model based on hardware sales, and provided or bundled the software free of charge. Organizations of users and suppliers such as SHARE and DECUS were formed to further facilitate the exchange of software and provide technical advice.
By the late 1960s, the prevailing business model around software was beginning to change. A growing and evolving software industry was competing with hardware manufacturers' bundled software products; rather than funding software development from hardware revenue, these new companies were selling software directly. Leased machines required software support while providing no revenue for software, and some customers able to better meet their own needs did not want the costs of software bundled with their hardware costs. In United States vs. IBM, filed January 17, 1969, the government charged that bundled software was anticompetitive.
By the 1970s and early 1980s, pure software companies were fully developed, with some in the industry beginning to use technical measures (such as only distributing binary copies of computer programs) to prevent computer users from being able to use reverse engineering techniques to study and customize software they had paid for. This idea that the underlying code in software was something to protect was further cemented in 1980, when copyright law was extended to computer programs in the United States — previously, computer programs could only be considered ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes, which were not copyrightable.
In 1983, Richard Stallman, longtime member of the hacker community at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, announced the GNU project, saying that he had become frustrated with the effects of the change in culture of the computer industry and its users. Software development for the GNU operating system began in January 1984, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded in October 1985. An article outlining the project and its goals was published in March 1985 titled the GNU Manifesto. The manifesto included significant explanation of the GNU philosophy and went on to promote concepts such as "free software" and "copyleft" licensing.
Stallman's efforts would eventually go on to influence other programmers. Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel in 1991. Though Linux was not initially released under a free or open-source software license, Torvalds re-licensed the project under the GNU General Public License with version 0.12 in February 1992. Much like Unix, Torvalds' kernel attracted the attention of volunteer programmers. Other open-source projects that started or picked up speed during the early to mid-'90s include FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Apache.
In 1997, Eric Raymond published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a reflective analysis of the hacker community and free software principles, comparing commercial (cathedral) and dispersed (bazaar) software development. A roundtable meeting of Linux community members and Raymond resulted in the creation of an "open source" definition and adoption of its ideal; the original announcement of what became known as The Open Source Definition was made on February 9, 1998 on Slashdot and elsewhere. The paper and associated community meetings received significant attention afterwards, with Raymond and programmer Bruce Perens starting the Open Source Initiative. Shortly before that, Netscape Communications Corporation announced it would be working towards releasing their popular Netscape Communicator Internet suite — today known as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird — as free and open-source software.
It didn't take long for the free and open source buzz to catch on. One of the first known public uses of the free open-source software concept (outside Raymond and Netscape Communications) was in a Usenet posting on March 19, 1998 advertising the free open-source KLyX word processing app, a little more than a month after the term open source itself was coined. However, while the Open Source Initiative sought to encourage the use of the new term and evangelize the principles it adhered to, commercial software vendors found themselves increasingly threatened by the concept of freely distributed software and universal access to an application's source code. Microsoft executive Jim Allchin publicly stated in 2001 that "open source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can't imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business."
Despite this sentiment and the role FOSS has historically played outside the mainstream of software development and business IT, the gradual adoption of open-source software in the business world began to take shape. In August 2005, Oracle president Charles Phillips spoke at the LinuxWorld trade show, reporting that "open source experienced 32 percent unit growth and 31 percent revenue growth in 2004 as it began to move more deeply into the data center." Companies such as IBM also began to integrate Linux and other open-source solutions into their attempts to better support business-class customers. Additionally, companies large and small begun to develop official open-source presences on the internet. As corporate philosophies began to shift, companies like IBM, Oracle, Google, and State Farm started to command a more serious public stake in the competitive open-source market.
Alternative terms for FOSS
Richard Stallman's Free Software Definition, adopted by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), defines free software as a matter of freedom or liberty, not price. More specifically, he places the following stipulations on free software:
A program is free software if the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). 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.
The earliest known publication of the definition of his free software idea was in the February 1986 edition of the FSF's now-discontinued GNU's Bulletin publication. The canonical source for the document is in the philosophy section of the GNU Project website and is published in 40 different languages.
The term "free software" is essentially the predecessor of "open source," which was brought to the public conscious by Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar in late 1997 and early 1998. In his noted revisions, Raymond documented "I changed 'free software' to 'open source'" on February 9, 1998, the same day the open source definition was publicly announced.
The Open Source Definition is used by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to determine whether a software license qualifies for the organization's insignia for open-source software. The definition was based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines, written and adapted primarily by programmer and free software activist Bruce Perens. Perens did not base his writing on the four freedoms of free software from the Free Software Foundation, which were only later available on the web. Perens eventually left the OSI in 1999, a year after co-founding it. In an email to the Debian developers mailing list explaining his decision, he stated that though "most hackers know that Free Software and Open Source are just two words for the same thing", the success of "open source" as a marketing term had "de-emphasized the importance of the freedoms involved in Free Software."; he added, "It's time for us to fix that." He also stated his regret that OSI co-founder Eric Raymond "seem[ed] to be losing his free software focus."
The term "FLOSS" (free/libre and open-source software) was coined in 2001 by Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Gregorio Robles, and other members of the Infonomics FLOSS team for a European Commission-funded project on the open source/free software (OS/FS) phenomena.
The term "FLOSS" aims to avoid taking sides in the debate over whether it was better to say "free software" or to say "open-source software". Proponents of the term point out that parts of the FLOSS acronym can be translated into other languages, with for example the "F" representing "free" (English) or "frei" (German), and the '"L" representing "libre" (Spanish or French), "livre" (Portuguese), or "libero" (Italian), "liber" (Romanian), and so on. However, this term is not often used in official non-English documents since the words in these languages don't have the same ambiguity as "free" does in English (either as "without cost" or as "freedom").
- Feller, Joseph; Fitzgerald, Brian; Hissam, Scott A.; Lakhani, Karim R. (2005). Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 538. ISBN 9780262062466. https://books.google.com/books?id=C0Z30r8qdpcC.
- Vetter, G. (2009). "Commercial Free and Open Source Software: Knowledge Production, Hybrid Appropriability, and Patents". Fordham Law Review 77 (5): 2087-2141. http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol77/iss5/4/.
- Weber, Steve (2009). The Success of Open Source. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 320. ISBN 9780674044999. https://books.google.com/books?id=78SLSiWqy14C&pg=PA4.
- Wheeler, David A. (18 July 2015). "Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers!". DWheeler.com. http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html.
- FLOSSworld: Free/Libre/Open Source Software: Worldwide impact study
- FreeOpenSourceSoftware.org: FOSS wiki
- IFOSSF.org: International Free and Open Source Solutions Foundation
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