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What is FOSS and why you need it right now!

FOSS stands for Free and Open Source Software.

Why is this even important at all and why do you need it? FOSS stands in direct contrast to proprietary software and ideals. Where proprietary software is closed and meant to maintain vendor lock-in; FOSS is meant to offer freedom and interoperability (even with proprietary formats).

Some examples of proprietary software and their FOSS alternatives (the alternatives link directly to the websites):
Microsoft Office Suite — LibreOffice
Adobe Photoshop — GIMP (you can read the full article here Why Adobe Photoshop will go the way of the dinosaurs
Adobe Illustrator — Inkscape (also mentioned in Why Adobe Photoshop will go the way of the dinosaurs
QuickBooks — GNUCash
Antivirus — CalmAV (read Why you don’t need to pay for antivirus software)

Why is FOSS important?

FOSS is important because that is where every and I do mean every piece of software will eventually be headed. The answer is incredibly simple, efficiency. With proprietary software, a company must have a team of developers who create the program, must maintain it, issue fixes, create interoperability, and add new features if needed. With FOSS, everyone is allowed to contribute and use the program to suit their needs. When new features are added in and bugs fixed, everyone benefits from the improvements. This is why the largest corporations (Microsoft and Google for example) contribute to FOSS projects.

For two examples of how pervasive FOSS is that most people aren’t aware of:
1) Every Android phone runs a Linux kernel (the low level software that tells your phone how to work).
2) Nginx and Apache are used on well over 80% (2015) of the web servers in the entire world.

FOSS in business

I’m going to use the recent mandate for healthcare companies in the US but it can be extrapolated out and applied to any other businesses as well.

The recent mandate is that healthcare companies must have electronic records. That is wonderful… except there is an issue of interoperability between these different software solutions healthcare companies are using. Put simply, if your doctor needs to transfer your records but the other doctor can’t open them, you have a problem. Where does FOSS come into play? Your doctor is intelligent and his office uses one of the many FOSS available for EHR (Electronic Health Records). He sends your records to another doctor whose office can’t open the format, what to do next? Obviously your doctor tells the less intelligent doctor to go download the program (because it’s free) and voila. Instant interoperability. On the other hand, a doctor sends your doctor something in a proprietary format and tells your doctor he needs to pay $5,000 for the program to open it (which is of course passed onto you). This is an extreme example, but I think it illustrates the point perfectly.

For large businesses that require help desk support, I recommend Red Hat Linux or Canonical (Ubuntu). They offer the operating systems for free (because they’re Linux) and make their money by offering support services. I have no association with either of these companies at all other than using Ubuntu and Cent OS (Cent OS is Red Hat with the trademarks and logos removed).

Other information:

This article (click link) has a lot of information and is heavily linked to outside studies. It is a very long read though so be prepared to sit for a bit, but is amazingly detailed.

The four examples listed in the beginning of the article are actual FOSS programs that I use and highly recommend to anyone wanting to switch.

I’ll be writing other articles in the future relating to the history of FOSS and a particularly juicy article titled “Microsoft in education, Learned Helplessness” explaining why Microsoft allows educational institutions access to their software for free or extremely low cost.

***I had seen the featured image a while ago and saved it because I like it. I couldn’t find the original designer when I started searching but will gladly give attribution if someone knows where it came from.

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