Free & Open Software, or commonly known as FOSS, is creeping up more and more in today’s digital society. In this article, I’m going to unpack what this term is and the advantages and disadvantages of free & open source software.
What is FOSS?
FOSS isn’t just a category of software – it’s a movement! FOSS is any software that can be freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change in any way you want, while leaving the source code openly shared to allow people to voluntarily contribute and update the software.
FOSS differs from proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright and the source code is hidden from its users. Think big companies, such as Facebook, Apple, Spotify, etc.
So, what are the benefits of FOSS?
Firstly, using free & open software is fantastic for your online privacy and security which I imagine is great considering you are reading this article. If you do not know the difference between online security and privacy, then I would recommend reading my article where I break these two terms down, found here. However, here are some of the advantages of FOSS:
With FOSS, the source code is open for anyone to view and make changes. Therefore, much open-source software is well-designed as it’s geared around a community of users. Everyone can contribute and regulate one another’s work.
With a community of users all working on software’s code, the result is higher-quality content. Another advantage of many workers is greater reliability than proprietary code that may be created by a handful of people who are restricted with what they can produce.
You may think that because FOSS allows anyone to make changes, then it’s an ideal place for hackers to exploit it. In reality, since the code is public, more and more people can investigate, collaborate, and fix any exploits, ensuring the software’s security. This has been proven by many studies, such as this one.
As well as being secure, open-source means full visibility, therefore, more transparency. This community of users works together to develop features and check bugs. They can also ensure they’re nothing nasty hidden within the code that may be unethical regarding user’s data.
Freedom from lock-ins
Proprietary software (Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc) all wish to lock you into their eco-system where their software only works in the way they intend it to work. Therefore, you can’t disable annoying notifications you may receive or easily remove Google services on an Android device, to name a few.
We’ve seen that free & open software is created and run by the community it is generally cheaper than its proprietary counterparts. FOSS typically relies on donations from the users.
Are there any disadvantages to FOSS?
The main disadvantage of open-source software is not being straightforward to use. Open-source operating systems, such as Linex can be less user-friendly. Therefore, if you wish to contribute, you’ll most likely need to brush up on your programming skills.
Although more and more open-source software is being used, there is still a shortage in some applications. Therefore, if you wish to make the switch to an open-source platform, you may run into some compatibility issues.
I hope this short article helped explain the basics of what FOSS is and why it’s an important consideration to make if you are trying to become more secure online. FOSS has heaps of benefits and is only on the rise, so look out for it in the future.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so do please let me know.