6 Reasons Why Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Will Save the World

Picture of white woman with glasses coding with heads up display of FOSS code user interface overlaid
Written by intel

Free and Open Source Software, FOSS for short, is the backbone of computers, programming, and the World Wide Web (WWW).

In fact, almost 40% of known websites’ operating systems (OS) and a whopping 85% of smartphones use Linux, a wildly popular free and open source operating system. (Source: True List)

Richard Stallman, GNU creator

“Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation (FSF) and GNU founder

Another one of Stallman’s breakthrough ideas was the 4 essential freedoms.

The 4 Essential Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

Linus Torvalds Finnish Developer Creates the World Famous Linux Kernel

Richard Stallman and his team had mostly redone Unix with his GNU operating system by 1991 but he was missing the kernel (like a computer nervous system).

Namely, the brain of the operating system that talks to the hardware and software and translates it into language our keyboard or mouse understands.

Linus Torvalds, Creator of Linux

Linux Torvalds, a Finnish computer scientist, stepped in at this stage and created the first iteration of this new and innovative program.

6 Reasons Why Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) Will Save the World

  1. Openness and transparency offers unprecedented security and resilience – A worldwide Peer2Peer (P2P) review of code helps avoid weakness in the code and instill robust engineering from the ground up.
  2. Maximizes the speed of innovation through open global collaboration – Anyone can freely download and re-purpose code anywhere in the world with a computer and internet.
  3. Brings powerful code and tools in the hands of the lay person – FOSS gives a bionic arm to builders who could not have created that on their own.
  4. Brings out the best in humans – Most of the open source community are unpaid, voluntary and passionate builders. It is a true group effort of helping each other through making these free public goods available to all.
  5. Open source code is protected under free speech – There was a famous case where the NSA threatened to jail Phil Zimmerman for coding Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption protocol. Thankfully they failed and the 1st amendment prevailed which now has precedence for protecting all published code.
  6. It’s (usually) free of charge – In a world where everything is metered and comes with a price tag, open source is a refreshing change of pace economically. This enables anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, to use it.

Despite it’s open nature and often free price, it is used by thousands of companies worldwide.

Bar chart showing reasons why organizations choose Linux
Why Organizations Use Linux | Source: OpenLogic by Perforce/OSI

Ultimately, free and open source software is a powerful force for good in the world that enhances us as humans and communities.

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Open Source Action Items

  • If you’re new to Linux, check out this ETM episode and Install Guide
  • Make a list of your favorite applications, operating systems and programs
  • Research open source alternatives like Linux for operating systems (OS)
  • Download what you like and start getting familiar with using them
  • Consider joining the newsletter and online communities for your favorite tools
  • If you have the wherewithal contribute time and support to the community
  • If you have a website or social media account, create content around your favorite open source tools (they often need any promotional help and funding they can get)

Further Learning

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