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Free Open Source Software (FOSS) represents one of the most impactful developments in the technology sector. Many individuals are unaware that they are indirect users of FOSS; without it, numerous technologies we enjoy today might never have come to fruition due to the constraints of proprietary software. The 'F' in FOSS is perhaps the most crucial, standing for 'Freedom'.
FOSS endows you with the liberty to review an application's source code to identify vulnerabilities, to fork (copy) and modify the software to meet your needs, and to utilize it as you deem fit.
However, FOSS also comes with certain restrictions:
- Your modifications must also be open source.
- You cannot resell software you didn't create.
Contrary to common perception, FOSS is not necessarily free of charge. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), arguably the most popular enterprise operating system, requires payment. You can bypass this by compiling the source code yourself or downloading a free-of-charge fork such as AlmaLinux or RockyLinux, but Red Hat won't provide technical support in these cases.
Developers must bear in mind the importance of adding an Open Source License to their projects to prevent code appropriation and potential lawsuits. These licenses are legal documents specifying how a person or organization can use, modify, and distribute software. Below is a comparison of five popular open source licenses:
- MIT License (MIT): A very permissive license that offers great flexibility with minimal restrictions, but provides no explicit protections against patent lawsuits and does not explicitly require derivative works to carry the license.
- GNU General Public License (GPLv3): A strong copyleft license that ensures all modifications and enhancements to the project remain free and open, though its strong copyleft nature can be limiting for commercial applications.
- Apache License 2.0: A permissive license that also provides an express grant of patent rights and protections against trademark infringement, though its additional legal provisions can make it more complex to understand and apply.
- GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPLv3): A "compromise" license between GPL's strong copyleft and more permissive licenses like MIT and Apache, but can be difficult to understand and apply.
- BSD 3-Clause "New" or "Revised" License (BSD-3-Clause): Similar to the MIT License, it allows users to do almost anything with the code, but provides no explicit protections against patent lawsuits and does not explicitly require derivative works to carry the license.
These licenses aim to promote the use, sharing, and modification of software, but differ in their requirements and restrictions. Developers and organizations should carefully consider their specific needs and goals when selecting an open source license.
Some well-known successful FOSS projects include:
- Linux: Arguably the most successful and widely used operating system kernel ever created. Around 90% of websites and apps are hosted on a Linux Server. Your smartphone, smart TV, and possibly even your smart fridge are likely powered by Linux.
- Content Management Systems: Numerous websites on the Internet have been built using WordPress, Drupal (this website for example), and many other development frameworks that simplify the job of web developers.
- Wikipedia: The largest encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia has become the repository of human discoveries. Before Wikipedia, limited and proprietary encyclopedias like Microsoft Encarta were the norm, and if you couldn't afford such software, you were left without options.
In conclusion, we require FOSS to continue driving digital innovation. Without FOSS, many individuals with low incomes would lack access to necessary software for their jobs. If we prioritized donations to FOSS projects over purchasing proprietary software from major corporations, we could foster the development of high-quality software accessible to everyone for free.