The Open Source and Free Software Community has long played a critical role in the development of new and innovative software, free for anyone to use or manipulate as they please, so long as they don't end up making others pay for it. Though some may be asking themselves "What is open-source, and why is everyone so crazy about it?". So before I write anything else on open-source, I wanted to answer this question, loud and clear.
Open Source can be simply summed up as "FOSS", or, "Free open-source software". On a more technical level, however, software is considered free, once it meets the four "essential freedoms" of software.
As stated by the GNU Project, under the Free Software Definition:
- Freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose
- Freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to source code is a precondition for this.
- Freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
- Freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing so, you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.
If a program meets these requirements, than it is considered free and open source. If not, then, well, it's non-free. There is more to Free Software than this, however. Although Open-Source can be put simply as four "essential freedoms", "Free Software" cannot be summarized as easily. While Open-Source is a development methodology,the software community considers "free-software" completely
differently. Free Software is a social viewpoint on the progression of innovation. Clearly, this differs from Open-Source, insofar as it is not merely a technique of developing software.
Free Software has long been on the forefront of innovation. Linux, for example, powers much of today's software and applications. Without it, the world would be a completely different place. Linux is powering phones and all kinds of devices, is the dominant form of operating system for supercomputers, and Google, Twitter, Facebook and even the Government rely on it for critical activities.
Many Free Software advocates consider non-free programs and software unethical, and in opposition to innovation. They consider all non-free a hindrance to technical progression and human freedom, since it's motivation is not the innovation of technology, rather, it is for monetary gain and restricting freedom. Such people are sometimes referred to as "Open-Source Saints". Though the motive for these Saints is admirable, ascertaining that all non-free software is, essentially, evil, can be a bit extreme for the average computer user, who may only use their computer to surf the web, Facebook, play some games, and check their email. For them, the Free Software initiative may seem like some surreal game played by computer geeks to have something to talk about over IRC chat. In reality, however, it is something much more than that-- and is certainly more important.
Free software is meant to promote social freedom, sharing, and cooperation. The "Big Idea" behind free software is collective intellectual property, and basic Freedom. For example, instead of awarding one inventor all the credit; anyone has the chance to pool their resources and brain-power to create something truly amazing. The Free Software initiative believes that corporations stymie this growth for their own monetary gain-- which may be true in many instances. Corporations award one person the most, while taking the work from people lower in the company, and giving the most credit and reward to higher-ups. This is obviously problematic, as it does not encourage for the spread of free ideas. Software systems such as Linux exist precisely against the purpose of corporations. In order to avoid the "Software Islands" that big corporations created (cough Microsoft and Apple_cough_),Pioneers of the Free-software cause created Linux-- an operating system built specifically to cater to a completely free experience. It is built with the Open-Source development methodology, which means that anyone, no matter who you are, can take it, and change it for any purpose you want-- you just can't sell it.
One of the great struggles of Open-Source, however, is funding. After all, we live in a capitalist society, where one must have a source of income to feed themselves everyday-- in this light, non-free software and corporations seem justified, as donations and the optional support that Open-Source software initiatives ask for are not always the most stable form of income.
Essentially, the Free Software cause is that of preserving freedom. The cause uses an Open-Source development methodology as a basis, though it's cause is one of greater proportion and importance than at first glance.
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