Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) - A General Introduction

September 5, 2020

A small introduction to the meaning, evolution, benefits & promote Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) philosophy

As explained by David Wheeler - “FOSS - Free and Open Source Software, as it is popularly acronym-ed, are the programs whose licenses give users the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study and modify the program and to redistribute copies of either the original or modified program without having to pay royalties to previous developers

Wow !! Sounds interesting right? Yes, you heard it correctly, with the FOSS philosophy you are not only getting the software application to use but also the underlying complex software source code which you can study, modify and redistribute without any legal binding to the original version.

We at freshboxx.in believe in the FOSS philosophy, use some of the FOSS projects in our back-end operations and would like to promote FOSS philosophy with out connects through this small introductory blog. 


The Philosophy behind FOSS

The concept of sharing software dates back to the 1960s. During that period, most of the computer programs were written by academics and researchers and hence it was a common practice to share source code and its executable/binary form. In fact, in the beginning, there was only free software and later the proprietary software was born. 

The two significant contributions in the evolution of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) are GNU Project (Free Software Foundation - FSF) philosophy and Open Source Initiative (OSI) philosophy. 


GNU Project & Free Software Foundation (FSF)

In 1983, Richard Stallman, launched the GNU Project to write a complete operating system free from constraints on use of its source code and launched it in 1985 along with the formation of the --The Free Software Foundation.  

FSF is a non-profit organization with a global thought to promote and defend rights of computer users of free software usage. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is best known for its sponsorship of the GNU project. 

FSF is also against software patents and additional restrictions to existing copyright laws that restrict the users freedom. 

For a more detailed explanation of why software needs to be free, please refer to the FSF explanation, “Why Software Should Be Free”, found at http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/shouldbefree.html


Open Source Initiative (OSI)

While the Free Software Foundation (FSF) promotes and defends the rights of computer users of free software usage, Open Source Initiative (OSI) talks more of making the source open to the users to study, modify and redistribute. 

Started in 1998 by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond, the basic understanding behind open source is very simple -- When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code of a software, it improves, issues get resolved very quickly (community driven) as compared to the conventional software development, and the software evolves. 

The OSI is more focused on technicalities of making powerful, reliable software, and is more business-friendly than the FSF, takes practical advantages of the distributed development model compared to conventional software development.


Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

The FSF is for Free Software, while the OSI defends Open Source of the Software and promotes distributed software development model, Free and Open Source (FOSS) combines the philosophy of FSF and OSI. Below table shows the a typical comparison between Proprietary Software and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

FeaturesProprietary Software (PS)Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)
User can run the software
Source code is available to user
Multiple users on multiple machines are allowed
User can modify the source code
User can redistribute the software

The Free Software Foundation publishes lists of licenses. The most popular of these licenses are - 
  • GNU General Public License.
  • FreeBSD License.
  • Mozilla Public License.
  • Apache License.
  • MIT License.

Above mentioned licenses are in compliance with “Free Software” definition and approved by FSF and their source code is Open Source.


FOSS Benefits

There are wide benefits of FOSS but here we will discuss few popular reasons which has contributed to the increased interest in FOSS - 


Community Support

FOSS projects are community driven. The volunteers contribute, support and promote the FOSS projects through online message-boards and mailing-lists. If any user/developer of FOSS has a question or trouble he/she can post the message on message-board or send an email to the mailing-list and volunteers respond with an understanding/answer and help find a solution. 


Cost

Typically a proprietary software license requires paying a separate fee for each machine or each user but that is not the case with FOSS projects as they have no buying or licensing cost. Moreover, users/developers have no restriction to make multiple copies of the FOSS project for multiple users or multiple machines obviously proving it more beneficial than proprietary software.


Security

Free and Open Source Software are more secure because their source code is available for scrutiny to a large community of volunteers. Bugs and security issues are identified and fixed easily and quickly.


Education and Research

FOSS Projects are well suited for education and research. The source code of FOSS project can be inspected and modified, this is very useful for research purposes. The cost to obtain, install and maintain the FOSS is very low and in some cases zero. Academic, students and researchers can freely share their work. Using the existing FOSS project code, a new software can be written without any copyright issues. 


Summary 

To summarise, we elaborated the meaning of Free and Open Source Software. We described the evolution and benefits of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). We listed widely used FOSS licenses that give more flexibility to developers and distributors. 

The FOSS model’s modular and distributed development is the important characteristics of any FOSS projects which make it collaborative and transparent ensuring security, availability, reliability and quality. FOSS projects will play a significant role in the future and help small, medium and large organization to use it, customise it according to their requirement, contribute back or redistribute it further.


FOSS @ freshboxx.in

We at -freshboxx.in- greatly admire the FOSS philosophy and also a complete user of available FOSS technologies and applications. Time has now come to add value to our services FOSS’LY (😊) mostly addressing the farmer community and retail vendors (smaller to small roadside) to bring them up the technology ladder compared to others. We wish to also contribute to the FOSS community by being actively responding to queries, requirements and suggesting the probable solution for a particular raise issue.

As an MSME startup in the agriculture domain and mainly focusing on improving the Agri-SCM reaping the benefits to farmers, retailers and individual consumers, we had to be lean on our technology expenditure and focus on our business goals to achieve our yearly target set to ourselves year-on-year (YoY). 

We adopted a few FOSS projects but with our own customization to help us in our day-to-day operations. freshboxx.in is very thrilled and excited to tell our readers, since our backbone is open source, it has helped us study and modify it to our needs and meet every hurdle we have faced till now.  


References:


Praveen Narappanavar
Praveen Narappanavar

Co-Founder & CTO

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