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Free and Open Source

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Free and Open Source

"FOSS" redirects here. For the K–8 science curriculum, see Full Option Science System.

Free and open-source software (FOSS) is software that can be classified as both free software and open source software.[1][2] That is, anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software.[3] This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright and the source code is hidden from the users, so that the rights holders (the software publishers) can sell binary executables.

Free, open-source operating systems such as Linux and BSD are widely utilized today, powering millions of servers, desktops, smartphones (e.g. Google Android), and other devices.[4][5] Free software licenses and open-source licenses are used by many software packages.

Advantages and benefits of free and open-source software

Free and open-source software can

  • be adapted to the underlying hardware solution
  • be customized to meet job specification as exactly as possible
  • be security audited
  • by the user, being an individual, a company or a public institution, or by some contractor(s) without the slightest vendor lock-in
  • usually there is an abundance of more or less experienced contractors available to accomplish the tasks above and also the system administration, maintenance and technical support
  • the profile of the potential contractor starts at some student (or pupil), a freelancer, some Small and medium enterprises to huge corporations
  • stability and security issues can be addressed and resolved in a direct manner by the user or all users using a community approach
  • higher motivation to exchange testing results and user experiences between adopters directly or openly, especially if they are not competitors
  • higher motivation to contribute back to the software by bug-reports, since there is no external profiteer, that could charge for the improvements and bug-fixes, because the code is simply available
  • at will cooperation based on mutuality and reciprocity
  • there is no contractual dependency on the vendor whatsoever; (please note that a lack of resources to work with the source code is not solvable by any license)
  • very often free and open-source software if also free of cost, leaving maximum financial leverage to be put into the tailoring of the entire hard- and software solution (which can be outsourced to external contractors)
  • very ubiquitous free and open-source software, depending on the adoption rate and the time scale, has been extensively security audited and tested on many hardware solutions and in various application scenarios; e.g. the Linux kernel is ubiquitously in use on servers, routers and mobile devices all over the world, hence field-tested and case-hardened for the exposure in the Internet.
  • software is an immaterial good ; when such a good is distributed under a free and open-source license, its monetary and non-monetary value to its users and to the economy the are part of can multiplies heavily

Benefits that are not immediate and compulsive features of free and open-source software, but are present in it or promoted by it and absent in many, most or all available proprietary software solutions comprise

  • the low rate or complete absence of malware
  • the respect of the user's privacy
  • and the adherence of the proprietor's or proprietress' full control over his or her own hardware

Free and open-source software in its initial state be hard to cumbersome, i.e. comprise of a set of patches to some existent code, which has to be downloaded in a certain version, patched and then compiled. But it can also be a ready to use Linux distribution, with a software repository that comprises 37,000 software packages compiled for different instruction sets, that can be very conveniently installed and maintained by employing the package management system, making it very simple to install and set-up some operating system for the desktop computer or a LAMP stack or LYME stack one some server.

The LAMP stack may be one of the reasons for the very high Linux adoption rate among web servers.

Game theory and free and open-source software

Any computer software can be described as the executable implementation of a set of ideas and some software architecture designing the overall working mechanism and the implemented interfaces. Technically it is possible to distinguish between the source code files written by the authors in some programming language and the compiled binary files in machine code ("written" by the compiler).

In most countries any source code, that meets certain qualifications regarding e.g. its extensiveness, written is by virtue of the law automatically copyrighted. Copyright encompasses the rights to use the software and to make this software available to others. It also regulates the rights to create derivative works and redistribute these. In most states the copyright of a work is transferable, it is thus possible to distinguish between the author and the copyright holder. By default, the rights are restricted. That means that by default, nobody besides the authors respectively the copyright holders themselves is by law allowed to have a copy, use or modify or redistribute the work. In most countries the copyright, i.e. the rights of the author regarding an immaterial good he authored as granted by the law, lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. After that period of time, that immaterial good falls under the public domain giving anybody the right to do anything with it.

The authors can choose to keep their work for themselves and not distribute it to others. The authors respectively the copyright holders can choose to distribute their work. Because of its nature an immaterial good, in contrary to a material good, can hardly be distributed only once because it cannot be counted, or at least the law does not make such a distinction. If the author of a software wishes to make his software available for example to his peer group, for them to receive a legal copy of that software, the author must specifically grant them the right to do so. Usually in form of a license.

However the users, being juristic person or natural persons, are distinguishable from one another, and such a distinction is made by the copyright law. It is also possible to specify numbers of individual users. The number of use cases by individual users are also countable and the usage conforming to rules alluding to this possibility has become technically enforceable by software implementation of digital restriction management. But such restriction must additionally be covered by law to be enforceable by the law and not by technical means only.

Thus distributing a software, means making that software available to a specific audience. Free and open-source licenses are all about distribution. The rights granted by the authors to the intended receptors effect the rights granted by the copyright, that are the rights to employ and redistribute, to modify and to redistribute the modifications of a software.

Even if the law forbids the use and the alteration of a software per se, it is hard to enforce that law, as long as that software is not redistributed. Only then could such behavior would be noticeable, e.g. by denunciation.

So the copyright (of the source code and the compiled work) allows for two generally distinguishable use cases:

The author or the holder of the copyright, can sell licenses to use a software, that is, grant the rights to use a software, as made possible by the law of a state, under a contract called End-user license agreement (EULA) (also called software license agreement (SLA)). It is also common, that the vendor obliges himself to offer a certain range of support for that software, that go beyond the warranty, and additional support can be purchased separately.

The author or the holder of the copyright, can publish the software under some free software license and/or some open-source software license. Which licenses or kind of license falls under whose definition, can be read about in the articles free software and open-source software. The basic commonality between them is the grant of the irrevocable right to use, redistribute, modify and redistribute the modification of a software in a certain version. To modify a software, a copy of its source code it necessary. The software is usually distributed without any liability or obligation for support. In fact, some offer additional support for payment to make a living. Free and open-source licenses are all about software distribution and this article will distinguish between soft copyleft and hard copyleft licenses.

Linux distributions are a form of software distribution made possible by the general availability of software published under a free license. The general intent behind them, is to offer a solution for an operating system that runs on an abundance of hardware, ranging from Portable media player (e.g. Rockbox) to Customer-premises equipment (e.g. OpenWrt) over desktop computers (e.g. Debian) to supercomputers (e.g. Rocks Cluster Distribution. Almost all are build around a Package management system that allows the easy installation of binary and also source packages. The source code of any package in the repository can be comfortably downloaded, adapted and the result be compiled employing e.g. GNU build system and the GNU Compiler Collection in situ.

Now obviously any user who is satisfied with the binary form of the software, will not care for all additional possibilities the free and open-source model offers.

  • free and open-source software development
  • free and open-source software adoption

Strong copyleft licenses

Weak copyleft licenses


Economy of developing countries

The software line of business

Public institutions

There is an incremental reclamation of free and open-source software by public institutions such as government agencies, military, police, public hospital and other. It is especially present in educational institutions.


Due to its nature free and open-source software has a very wide use in the broad field of education. It is present in formal education from preschool education to adult education and very predominant in the field of autodidacticism.

Internet-based activities

Business models


Philosophies and events around free and open-source software have a long history.

Definition and naming

There a a couple of terms regarding to free and open-source software.

Adoption of free and open-source software

Free and open-source software is very ubiquitous. There has been a wide range of adoption due to various reasons.

See also

Free software portal


  • Byrne, E. J. (1991). Software reverse engineering: A case study. Software: Practice and Experience, 21(12), 1349–1364
  • Feller, J., Fitzgerald, B., Hissam, S. A., Lakahani, K. R. (2005). Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. MIT Press.
  • Miller, K. W., Voas, J., & Costello, T. (2010). Free and open source software. IT Professional, 12(6), 14-16. 10.1109/MITP.2010.147
  • Salus, P. H. (2005). A History of Free and Open Source. Retrieved from
  • Vetter, G. (2009). Commercial Free and Open Source Software: Knowledge Production, Hybrid Appropriability, and Patents. Fordham Law Review, (77)5, 2087-2141. Retrieved from
  • Wheeler, D. (2007). Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers!. Retrieved from
  • William, S. (2002). Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. O'Reilly Media.

External links

  • FOSSBazaar: community for free and open source software governance
  • FLOSSworld: Free/Libre/Open Source Software: Worldwide impact study
  • Free / Open Source Research Community (
  • Wiki on FOSS history, organizations, licenses, people, software.
  • International Free and Open Source Software Foundation

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