Free And Open Source Software
A screenshot of free and open-source software: Linux Mint running the Xfce desktop environment, Firefox, a calculator program, the built-in calendar, Vim, GIMP, and VLC media player

Free and open-source software (FOSS) is computer software that can be classified as both free software and open-source software.[a] 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 usually hidden from the users.

The benefits of using FOSS can include decreasing software costs, increasing security and stability (especially in regard to malware), protecting privacy, and giving users more control over their own hardware. Free, open-source operating systems such as Linux and descendents of BSD are widely utilized today, powering millions of servers, desktops, smartphones (e.g. Android), and other devices.[4][5]Free software licenses and open-source licenses are used by many software packages.



In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to 1980s, it was common for computer users to have the source code for all programs they used, and the permission and ability to modify it for their own use. Software, including source code, was commonly shared by individuals who used computers. Most companies had a business model based on hardware sales, and provided or bundled software with hardware, free of charge.[] Organizations of users and suppliers were formed to facilitate the exchange of software; see, for example, SHARE and DECUS.

By the late 1960s, the prevailing business model around software was changing. A growing and evolving software industry was competing with the hardware manufacturer's bundled software products; rather than funding software development from hardware revenue, these new companies were selling software directly. Leased machines required software support while providing no revenue for software, and some customers able to better meet their own needs did not want the costs of software bundled with hardware product costs. In United States vs. IBM, filed 17 January 1969, the government charged that bundled software was anticompetitive.[6] While some software might always be free, there would be a growing amount of software that was for sale only. In the 1970s and early 1980s, some parts of the software industry began using technical measures (such as only distributing binary copies of computer programs) to prevent computer users from being able to use reverse engineering techniques to study and customize software they had paid for. In 1980, the copyright law was extended to computer programs in the United States[7]--previously, computer programs could be considered ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes, which are not copyrightable.[8][9]

In 1983, Richard Stallman, longtime member of the hacker community at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, announced the GNU project, saying that he had become frustrated with the effects of the change in culture of the computer industry and its users.[10] Software development for the GNU operating system began in January 1984, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded in October 1985. An article outlining the project and its goals was published in March 1985 titled the GNU Manifesto. The manifesto included significant explanation of the GNU philosophy, Free Software Definition and "copyleft" ideas.

The Linux kernel, started by Linus Torvalds, was released as freely modifiable source code in 1991. Initially, Linux was not released under a free or open-source software license. However, with version 0.12 in February 1992, he relicensed the project under the GNU General Public License.[11] Much like Unix, Torvalds' kernel attracted the attention of volunteer programmers.[]

FreeBSD and NetBSD (both derived from 386BSD) were released as free software when the USL v. BSDi lawsuit was settled out of court in 1993. OpenBSD forked from NetBSD in 1995. Also in 1995, The Apache HTTP Server, commonly referred to as Apache, was released under the Apache License 1.0.

In 1997, Eric Raymond published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a reflective analysis of the hacker community and free software principles. The paper received significant attention in early 1998, and was one factor in motivating Netscape Communications Corporation to release their popular Netscape Communicator Internet suite as free software. This code is today better known as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

Netscape's act prompted Raymond and others to look into how to bring the FSF's free software ideas and perceived benefits to the commercial software industry. They concluded that FSF's social activism was not appealing to companies like Netscape, and looked for a way to rebrand the free software movement to emphasize the business potential of sharing and collaborating on software source code. The new name they chose was "open source", and quickly Bruce Perens, publisher Tim O'Reilly, Linus Torvalds, and others signed on to the rebranding. The Open Source Initiative was founded in February 1998 to encourage use of the new term and evangelize open-source principles.[12]

While the Open Source Initiative sought to encourage the use of the new term and evangelize the principles it adhered to, commercial software vendors found themselves increasingly threatened by the concept of freely distributed software and universal access to an application's source code. A Microsoft executive publicly stated in 2001 that "open source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can't imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business."[13] This view perfectly summarizes the initial response to FOSS by some software corporations.[] However, while FOSS has historically played a role outside of the mainstream of private software development, companies as large as Microsoft have begun to develop official open-source presences on the Internet. IBM, Oracle, Google and State Farm are just a few of the companies with a serious public stake in today's competitive open-source market. There has been a significant shift in the corporate philosophy concerning the development of free and open-source software (FOSS).[14]

GPLv3 controversy

While copyright is the primary legal mechanism that FOSS authors use to ensure license compliance for their software, other mechanisms such as legislation, patents, and trademarks have implications as well. In response to legal issues with patents and the DMCA, the Free Software Foundation released version 3 of its GNU Public License in 2007 that explicitly addressed the DMCA and patent rights.

After the development of the GNU GPLv3 in 2007, the FSF (as copyright holder of many pieces of the GNU system) updated many[] of the GNU programs' licenses from GPLv2 to GPLv3. On the other hand, the adoption of the new GPL version was heavily discussed in the FOSS ecosystem,[15] several projects decided against upgrading. For instance the linux kernel,[16][17] the BusyBox[18][19] project, AdvFS,[20]Blender,[21] and as also the VLC media player decided against adopting the GPLv3.[22]

Apple, a user of GCC and a heavy user of both DRM and patents, switched the compiler in its Xcode IDE from GCC to Clang, which is another FOSS compiler[23] but is under a permissive license.[24]LWN speculated that Apple was motivated partly by a desire to avoid GPLv3.[23] The Samba project also switched to GPLv3, so Apple replaced Samba in their software suite by a closed-source, proprietary software alternative.[25]

Commercial ownership of open-source software

Mergers have affected major open-source software. Sun Microsystems (Sun) acquired MySQL AB, owner of the popular open-source MySQL database, in 2008.[26]

Oracle in turn purchased Sun in January, 2010, acquiring their copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Thus, Oracle became the owner of both the most popular proprietary database and the most popular open-source database. Oracle's attempts to commercialize the open-source MySQL database have raised concerns in the FOSS community.[27] Partly in response to uncertainty about the future of MySQL, the FOSS community forked the project into new database systems outside of Oracle's control. These include MariaDB, Percona, and Drizzle.[28] All of these have distinct names; they are distinct projects and can not use the trademarked name MySQL.[29]

Legal cases

Oracle v. Google

In August, 2010, Oracle sued Google, claiming that its use of Java in Android infringed on Oracle's copyrights and patents. The Oracle v. Google case ended in May 2012, with the finding that Google did not infringe on Oracle's patents, and the trial judge ruled that the structure of the Java APIs used by Google was not copyrightable. The jury found that Google infringed a small number of copied files, but the parties stipulated that Google would pay no damages.[30] Oracle appealed to the Federal Circuit, and Google filed a cross-appeal on the literal copying claim.[31] Oracle won the appeal, but Google won a subsequent retrial in 2016.[]


Free and open source software is an umbrella term for software that is either free software, open source software, or as is often the case, both. In practice, free and open source software is usually provided free of charge, allows the user to inspect the source code, and provides a relatively high level of control of the software's function compared to proprietary software.

There is little practical distinction between the two terms, as the primary license difference between free software and open source is one of philosophy. According to the Free Software Foundation, "Nearly all open source software is free software. The two terms describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values."[32] Thus, the Open Source Initiative considers many free software licenses to also be open-source. These include the latest versions of the FSF's three main licenses: the GPL, the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), and the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL).[33] Thus, terminology of free and open source software is intended to be neutral on these philosophical disagreements.

There are a number of related terms and abbreviations for free and open source software (FOSS or F/OSS) or free/libre and open source software (FLOSS). (see: Alternative terms for free software)

Free software

Richard Stallman's Free Software Definition, adopted by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), defines free software as a matter of liberty, not price.[34] The earliest known publication of the definition of his free software idea was in the February 1986 edition[35] of the FSF's now-discontinued GNU's Bulletin publication. The canonical source for the document is in the philosophy section of the GNU Project website. As of April 2008, it is published there in 39 languages.[36]

Open source

The Open Source Definition is used by the Open Source Initiative to determine whether a software license qualifies for the organization's insignia for open-source software. The definition was based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines, written and adapted primarily by Bruce Perens.[37][38] Perens did not base his writing on the four freedoms of free software from the Free Software Foundation, which were only later available on the web.[39] Perens later stated that he felt Eric Raymond's promotion of open source unfairly overshadowed the Free Software Foundation's efforts and reaffirmed his support for free software.[40] In the following 2000s he spoke about Open source again.[41][42]


Adoption by governments

"We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable -- one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust, or adapt, we could."

Official statement of the United Space Alliance, which manages the computer systems for the International Space Station (ISS), regarding why they chose to switch from Windows to Linux on the ISS.[43][44]

The Government of Kerala, India, announced its official support for free/open-source software in its State IT Policy of 2001,[45][discuss] which was formulated after the first-ever free software conference in India, Freedom First!, held in July 2001 in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. In 2009, Government of Kerala started the International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS).[46] In March 2015 the Indian government announced a policy on adoption of open source software.[47][48]

In the German City of Munich, conversion of 15,000 PCs and laptops from Microsoft Windows-based operating systems to a Debian-based Linux environment called LiMux spanned the ten years of 2003 to 2013. After successful completion of the project, more than 80% of all computers were running Linux.[49]

In 2004, a law in Venezuela (Decree 3390) went into effect, mandating a two-year transition to open source in all public agencies. As of June 2009, this ambitious transition was still under way.[50][51]Malaysia launched the "Malaysian Public Sector Open Source Software Program", saving millions on proprietary software licenses until 2008.[52][53]

In 2005 the Government of Peru voted to adopt open source across all its bodies.[54] The 2002 response to Microsoft's critique is available online. In the preamble to the bill, the Peruvian government stressed that the choice was made to ensure that key pillars of democracy were safeguarded: "The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked to the basic guarantees of a state of law."[55] In September, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced its formal adoption of the OpenDocument standard for all Commonwealth entities.[56]

In 2006, the Brazilian government has simultaneously encouraged the distribution of cheap computers running Linux throughout its poorer communities by subsidizing their purchase with tax breaks.[56]

In April 2008,[57]Ecuador passed a similar law, Decree 1014, designed to migrate the public sector to Libre Software.[58]

In February 2009, the United States White House moved its website to Linux servers using Drupal for content management.[59]

In March 2009, the French Gendarmerie Nationale announced it will totally switch to Ubuntu by 2015. The Gendarmerie began its transition to open source software in 2005 when it replaced Microsoft Office with across the entire organization.[60]

In January 2010, the Government of Jordan announced a partnership with Ingres Corporation (now named Actian), an open source database management company based in the United States, to promote open-source software use, starting with university systems in Jordan.[61]

In September 2014, the Uganda National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) announced a call for feedback on an Open Source Strategy & Policy[62] at a workshop in conjunction with the ICT Association of Uganda (ICTAU).

In August 2016, the United States government announced a new federal source code policy which mandates that at least 20% of custom source code developed by or for any agency of the federal government be released as open-source software (OSS).[63] In addition, the policy requires that all source code be shared between agencies. The public release is under a three-year pilot program and agencies are obliged to collect data on this pilot to gauge its performance. The overall policy aims to reduce duplication, avoid vendor 'lock-in', and stimulate collaborative development. A new website provides "an online collection of tools, best practices, and schemas to help agencies implement this policy", the policy announcement stated. It also provides the "primary discoverability portal for custom-developed software intended both for Government-wide reuse and for release as OSS".[63] As yet unspecified OSS licenses will be added to the code.[64]

In 2017, the European Commission stated that «EU institutions should become open source software users themselves, even more than they already are» and listed open source software as one of the nine key drivers of innovation, together with big data, mobility, cloud computing and the internet of things.[65]

FOSS and Benkler's new economy

According to Yochai Benkler, Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, free software is the most visible part of a new economy of commons-based peer production of information, knowledge, and culture. As examples, he cites a variety of FOSS projects, including both free software and open-source.[66]

This new economy is already under development. To commercialize FOSS, many companies move towards advertisement-supported software. In such a model, the only way to increase revenue is to make the advertisement more valuable. Facebook was criticized in 2011 for using novel methods of tracking users to accomplish this.[67]

This new economy has alternatives. Apple's App Stores have proven very popular with both users and developers. The Free Software Foundation considers Apple's App Stores to be incompatible with its GPL and complained that Apple was infringing on the GPL with its iTunes terms of use. Rather than change those terms to comply with the GPL, Apple removed the GPL-licensed products from its App Stores.[68]

See also


  1. ^ FOSS is an inclusive term that covers both free software and open-source software, which despite describing similar development models, have differing cultures and philosophies.[1]Free refers to the users' freedom to copy and re-use the software. The Free Software Foundation, an organization that advocates the free software model, suggests that, to understand the concept, one should "think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer". (See "The Free Software Definition". Retrieved 2010. ) Free software focuses on the fundamental freedoms it gives to users, whereas open source software focuses on the perceived strengths of its peer-to-peer development model.[2] FOSS is a term that can be used without particular bias towards either political approach.


  1. ^ Feller 2005, pp. 89, 362.
  2. ^ Feller 2005, pp. 101-106, 110-111.
  3. ^ Free Software Foundation. "What is free software?". Retrieved 2011. 
  4. ^ Hatlestad 2005.
  5. ^ Claburn 2007.
  6. ^ Fisher, McKie & Mancke 1983.
  7. ^ Computer Software 1980 Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 96-517, 94 Stat. 3015, 3028.
  8. ^ "Copyright Basics". 
  9. ^ Weber 2009.
  10. ^ William 2002.
  11. ^ "Release notes for Linux kernel 0.12". 
  12. ^ "History of the OSI". 
  13. ^ Charny 2001.
  14. ^ Miller, Voas & Costello 2010, pp. 14-16.
  15. ^ Mark (2008-05-08). "The Curse of Open Source License Proliferation". Retrieved . Currently the decision to move from GPL v2 to GPL v3 is being hotly debated by many open source projects. According to Palamida, a provider of IP compliance software, there have been roughly 2489 open source projects that have moved from GPL v2 to later versions. 
  16. ^ Torvalds, Linus. "COPYING". Retrieved 2013. Also note that the only valid version of the GPL as far as the kernel is concerned is _this_ particular version of the license (ie v2, not v2.2 or v3.x or whatever), unless explicitly otherwise stated. 
  17. ^ Kerner, Sean Michael (2008-01-08). "Torvalds Still Keen On GPLv2". Retrieved . "In some ways, Linux was the project that really made the split clear between what the FSF is pushing which is very different from what open source and Linux has always been about, which is more of a technical superiority instead of a -- this religious belief in freedom," Torvalds told Zemlin. So, the GPL Version 3 reflects the FSF's goals and the GPL Version 2 pretty closely matches what I think a license should do and so right now, Version 2 is where the kernel is." 
  18. ^ corbet (2006-10-01). "Busy busy busybox". Retrieved . Since BusyBox can be found in so many embedded systems, it finds itself at the core of the GPLv3 anti-DRM debate. [...]The real outcomes, however, are this: BusyBox will be GPLv2 only starting with the next release. It is generally accepted that stripping out the "or any later version" is legally defensible, and that the merging of other GPLv2-only code will force that issue in any case 
  19. ^ Landley, Rob (2006-09-09). "Re: Move GPLv2 vs v3 fun...". Retrieved . Don't invent a straw man argument please. I consider licensing BusyBox under GPLv3 to be useless, unnecessary, overcomplicated, and confusing, and in addition to that it has actual downsides. 1) Useless: We're never dropping GPLv2. 
  20. ^ Press release concerning the release of the AdvFS source code
  21. ^ Prokoudine, Alexandre (26 January 2012). "What's up with DWG adoption in free software?". Archived from the original on 2016-11-09. Retrieved . [Blender's Toni Roosendaal:] "Blender is also still "GPLv2 or later". For the time being we stick to that, moving to GPL 3 has no evident benefits I know of." 
  22. ^ Denis-Courmont, Rémi. "VLC media player to remain under GNU GPL version 2". Retrieved . In 2001, VLC was released under the OSI-approved GNU General Public version 2, with the commonly-offered option to use "any later version" thereof (though there was not any such later version at the time). Following the release by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) of the new version 3 of its GNU General Public License (GPL) on the 29th of June 2007, contributors to the VLC media player, and other software projects hosted at, debated the possibility of updating the licensing terms for future version of the VLC media player and other hosted projects, to version 3 of the GPL. [...] There is strong concern that these new additional requirements might not match the industrial and economic reality of our time, especially in the market of consumer electronics. It is our belief that changing our licensing terms to GPL version 3 would currently not be in the best interest of our community as a whole. Consequently, we plan to keep distributing future versions of VLC media player under the terms of the GPL version 2. 
  23. ^ a b Brockmeier 2010.
  24. ^ "LLVM Developer Policy". LLVM. Retrieved 2012. 
  25. ^ Holwerda 2011.
  26. ^ "Sun to Acquire MySQL". MySQL AB. Retrieved . 
  27. ^ Thomson 2011.
  28. ^ Samson 2011.
  29. ^ Nelson 2009.
  30. ^ Niccolai 2012.
  31. ^ Jones 2012.
  32. ^ Stallman n.d.
  33. ^ "Licenses by Name". Open Source License. Open Source Initiative. Retrieved 2011. 
  34. ^ "". 20 September 2011. Retrieved 2011. 
  35. ^ "GNU's Bulletin, Volume 1 Number 1, page 8". 
  36. ^ "The Free Software Definition - Translations of this page". 
  37. ^ "The Open Source Definition by Bruce Perens". , Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, January 1999, ISBN 1-56592-582-3
  38. ^ "The Open Source Definition". , The Open Source Definition according to the Open Source Initiative
  39. ^ "". 16 February 2009. Retrieved 2011. 
  40. ^ "It's Time to Talk About Free Software Again". 
  41. ^ "Bruce Perens - State of Open Source Message: A New Decade For Open Source". 1998-02-09. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved . 
  42. ^ Barr, Joe (January 13, 2003). "Meet the Perens". LinuxWorld Magazine. 
  43. ^ Gunter 2013.
  44. ^ Bridgewater 2013.
  45. ^ ""Role of Open or Free Software", Section 15, page 20, of the State IT Policy (2001) of the Government of Kerala, copy available at the UN Public Administration Network (UNPAN) site" (PDF). 
  46. ^[permanent dead link]
  47. ^ Alawadhi 2015.
  48. ^ "Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India" (PDF). 
  49. ^ "Landeshauptstadt München - Aktuelle Zahlen" (in German). Retrieved . 
  50. ^ (Spanish) Venezuela Open Source Archived February 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  51. ^ Chavez, Hugo F. (December 2004). "Publicado en la Gaceta oficial No 38.095 de fecha 28/ 12/ 2004". Archived from the original on 9 August 2011. Retrieved 2011. 
  52. ^ "". Retrieved 2011. 
  53. ^ "". Retrieved 2011. 
  54. ^ Clarke 2005.
  55. ^ National Advisory Council on Innovation Open Software Working Group (July 2004). "Free/Libre & Open Source Software and Open Standards in South Africa" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 22, 2014. Retrieved 2008. 
  56. ^ a b Casson & Ryan 2006.
  57. ^ "[News] Ecuador Ahead of the World with Democracy of Knowledge". 
  58. ^ (Spanish), Decree 1014
  59. ^ Vaughan-Nichols 2009.
  60. ^ Paul 2009.
  61. ^ "Jordan Information Ministry signs deal on open source - Government - News & Features". Retrieved . 
  62. ^ "Open Source Strategy & Policy"
  63. ^ a b Scott, Tony; Rung, Anne E (8 August 2016). Federal Source Code Policy: Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software -- Memorandum for the Heads of Departments and Agencies -- M-16-21 (PDF). Washington DC, USA: Office of Budget and Management, Executive Office of the President. Retrieved .  Also available as HTML at:
  64. ^ New, William (22 August 2016). "New US Government Source Code Policy Could Provide Model For Europe". Intellectual Property Watch. Geneva, Switzerland. Retrieved . 
  65. ^ Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (2017). The economic and social impact of software & services on competitiveness and innovation. ISBN 978-92-79-66177-8. 
  66. ^ Benkler 2003.
  67. ^ ElBoghdady & Tsukayama 2011.
  68. ^ Vaughan-Nichols 2011.


Further reading

External links

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