01/07/2017
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Understand free and open source software

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There are FLOSS software solutions for any writing task you're trying to accomplish, and we recommend some of the best in the August issue of Writing Magazine, but what do those terms mean exactly?

What is FLOSS?

Proprietary software comes with long and almost unreadable licences that you must agree to before using the application. Licensing means you never own the software you just have permission to use it subject to all sorts of caveats. Crucially you can’t copy it, sell it, give it away or fiddle with it to improve it.
Free (Libre) Open Source Software (FLOSS) is different. There are various licences but the main point is that you are free to do what you want with it. You can install on as many machines as you like, copy it, give it away, even sell it – though you might struggle with that when other people are giving it away.
‘Free Software’, ‘FOSS’, ‘FLOSS’ and ‘Open Source’ all mean pretty much the same. (There are important differences of interest to free software aficionados, but there’s no room, or need, to debate them here.) Freeware is different.

Avoid most FREEWARE

Freeware is simply software that is given away. Some of it is good, produced by decent honourable people and comes with a few adverts to pay for the work they put in. Most smartphone apps are freeware and there is quite a lot for PCs too. Some freeware is less desirable; it is often old, full of bugs and can be used as a trojan horse to insinuate ‘malware’ into your computer. Unless you know the source is trustworthy, avoid it like the plague.

FLOSS economics

I like being paid for my work, and software developers are no different, so how does FLOSS work?
Some developers are students aiming to build a reputation in the industry and further their career but most work for companies, research labs, government departments or universities. Their employers uses FLOSS and employ them to improve it, extend it or even totally replace it to benefit the employer’s business. But it’s a requirement of most FLOSS licences that anyone producing a modified version or releasing a new application with some Open Source code in it has to free their work too. So everyone wins.

See our FLOSS recommendations in the August issue of Writing Magazine

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