J. R. Swab

Why You Should Use Free & Open Source


Categories: [Technology]
Tags: open-source open-source

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is a group of programs and projects classified as both open-source and free software. This type of software respects the user's freedom while allowing all of us to look over the code. The ability to review code is essential, so we know exactly what the program is doing both up-front and in the background.

Not all software that is open-source has the freedom aspect attached. In my opinion, this is a bit of a nitpick, but many people only want to use software that respects the user's freedom to the fullest. Being open-source is the most important to me as this allows anyone to know what the program does.

Having the code open also lets users report any security issues that the developers missed while creating the software. For me, I'd rather have the protection of many eyes on the software even if it lacks some freedom. That said, I will always choose a FOSS application over a general open-source version if they both accomplish the same task.

The main difference that defines an open-source program as free software is in the licensing the creator uses. For the application to be FOSS, it needs to be open-source and allow any user to study, change, and redistribute the altered code as a separate version. When a program is an 'only open-source', the users are not free to modify the code and redistribute it - just study and review the code.

In the early days of computing, this style of software was the norm. It was not until the 1970s that software developed a monetized nature. This lead to the locking-down of the code used to create the programs, to stop others from copying and editing the code - either for their own use or distribution.

From the 1950s up until the early 1970s, it was normal for computer users to have the software freedoms associated with free software. The software was commonly shared by individuals who used computers and by hardware manufacturers who welcomed the fact that people were making software that made their hardware useful. Organizations of users and suppliers, for example, SHARE, were formed to facilitate exchange of software. - infogalactic

The Benefits of Free & Open Source Software

Privacy & Security

Because both FOSS and open-source software is online and readable by anyone, this greatly decreases the chance of a vulnerability going unnoticed. Which in turn reduces the risk of a malicious hacker or cracker exploiting the programs we use to their advantage.

Being open-source also helps to stop back-doors into the programs we use. A back-door is a way for an entity that knows it is there. to gain access to the program data. It's dangerous to have these. for while it may not be an issue for the company to have this as a means of fixing bugs - if a cracker finds the back-door they could wreak havoc on the users.

Faster Development

When anybody can work on a program, the rate at which the application develops increases due to the accumulation of knowledge. However, this only seems to work in the "open bazaar" style as described in book The Cathedral And The Bazaar by Eric Raymond. Before the open-source revolution, a company would hire more programmers as needed, but the project would end up taking more time than expected anyway.

In the bazaar style, the number of people who can look at the code is only limited by the number of people who know the programming language. Since the number is so large, there is bound to be someone who fixed this certain issue before, and in turn would solve the problem much faster.

User-Focused

Because these programs are open for all to see there no incentive to perform malicious activity via the app. This includes mining user data to sell to companies. When a program's code is closed off and propriety those people can get away with a lot and exploit their user base.

Free, As In Freedom

  1. The user is free to run the software.
  2. The user is free to study the software.
  3. The user is free to redistribute the software.
  4. The user is free to improve the software.

Free, As In Coffee

Often these programs come free of charge to download and use. They do not have to be, and some developers will provide the application for free and charge for the support in the event a user needs extra help.

How To Start Using FOSS

There are numerous free and open source alternatives to many of the propriety applications people use every day. For example, there is Libre Office instead of Microsoft Office, GIMP in place of PhotoShop, and VLC instead of Quicktime or Windows Media Play.

To find a FOSS version of the software you use daily head over to AlternativeTo.net and run a search. You can limit the search to show only open-source projects that compete with the product of your choice. Then head over to that program's site to download the app for your computer.

Once the app is installed, start messing around with it and see if it can do all the tasks you need it to. It may take some time to get used to the slight differences in naming and icons, but you will pick it up fast. When the day comes that you can use the FOSS over the proprietary software, it's time to make the switch.

Repeat this process for all of your applications and over time the only closed software you will have is your operating system (unless you use Linux). You will no longer need to worry about back-doors in the apps you use that can allow third parties to snoop on your data; as well as being confident the application is as secure as it can be with each new update.