What is FOSS?

What is “Free” and/or “Open Source” Software?

open-source-logoThis can be a daunting question.  In fact, it can get just as heated as politics or religion at times.  We appreciate both groups, and are not here to choose sides.  The fact of the matter is, they both do good work, and even participate cooperatively on many projects.  The difference really comes down to some licensing language, and ethics.  The most important thing to remember though, is what they are not, and that is proprietary software.  We’re all familiar with Microsoft and Apple, these 2 companies develop operating systems and applications for computers, all of which are proprietary.  This proprietary software is distributed with restrictive licenses that limit what you are legally allowed to do with it.  “Free Software” is the exact opposite – you are free to use, copy, distribute, and modify the software however you wish.  They have a saying that makes this a little easier to understand – “Free as in speech, not beer”.  “Open Source Software” is similar, but allows for a few restrictions on licensing.  As business people, we often hear that “Nothing good is ever free”, and this mindset can prevent us from considering FOSS solutions in place of costly proprietary solutions.  Let’s take a look at some FOSS projects that may help us see why that saying just isn’t true:

  • Firefox – The Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox web browser is a great piece of software, and a great example of FOSS.  The code is freely available for review and modification, and the final product is available to anybody for free of charge.  The software is continually updated and improved, and there are literally thousands of add-ons available due to the open nature of the project.
  • Linux – Technically GNU/Linux, it is an operating system complete with all kinds of applications and tools.  Over half the web servers on the Internet run on the Apache web server (also Open Source), an top of Linux.  The same goes for e-mail too.  Chances are very good that your web and e-mail traffic are bouncing all over Linux servers, each and every day.
  • OpenOffice – Apache OpenOffice is a complete office suite similar to Microsoft Office.  It supports word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases, while storing your data in an open, international standard format.  It can also open and edit documents from other office suites.
  • SugarCRM – SugarCRM CE is an Open Source Customer Relationship Management package similar to SAP 360 Customer and Salesforce.com.  SugarCRM is used by many companies ranging from small sales companies to heavyweights such as Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, and BNSF.

As you can see, there are numerous things that can be both good, and free.  Surely companies like Coke and Chevrolet would invest in proprietary software if these FOSS options did not meet their needs.  That’s not to say that there is a FOSS alternative for every situation.  Indeed there are many occasions where a FOSS solution is not the best.  However, we believe that every option should be considered when evaluating the needs of our clients.  Please visit our How can FOSS help me page for more information.