Today I'm going to take it all the way back to FOSS fundamentals and look at one question which a lot of people who are unfamiliar with free and open source software ask.
If you already know the FOSS basics (I guess the majority of our readers here), you might want to skip over this one, it's pretty basic.
In particular, one question often arises - why should I use FOSS over a similar proprietary solution?
Now a lot of this is buried in the history of the free software movement. Arguably, the most important person in this area is Richard Stallman.
His definition of free software is any bit of software that gives the user the following rights:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (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 improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
Any program whose licence gives these rights is considered free and any one that doesn't is considered proprietary.
Apart from the obvious benefit of that often free and open source software can be obtained for no charge (remember free doesn't necessarily mean 'no cost' in this case), why should you consider choosing the free solution?
In this article, I'm going to look at just one reason why you should be using free and open source software.
With a free program, you can be sure that no one company can take away your right to use the software, or suddenly decide you're not allowed to use it for something.
Take this example - one company have released a really great program for making 3D drawings. They let you use it for no cost, but you don't get the source code and the licence doesn't give you the above freedoms.
Suddenly, this company gets bought by a larger, and on the whole, nastier company. The new management decide to commercialise the product, but they also revoke everyone's right to use the old software. You have all your 3D drawings saved in this program's format, and now you can't get your data back out of the program without buying it.
If the program's source code had been open, the new management wouldn't have been allowed to say "you can't use it any more". Any person tech-savvy enough could have grabbed the source code, built it and put it on their website to download for free. That way, everyone would still be able to use the software, just not the new company's latest, non-free version. That way, you can still get your documents back out.
Finally, I just want to make one point. You don't have to be a free software purist like Richard Stallman. It's not realistic or feasible to go from 100% proprietary to 100% free in a day. Nor do you have to go 100% free if you don't want to either.
It's a personal choice what software you run. This article isn't designed to scare you into running free stuff, neither am I saying "you should be using this".
All my aim was here was to make a few points about the ideas behind FOSS.
If you don't think you're using anything open source already, why not try Firefox? It's a great start.