Sunday, March 22, 2009

FOSS is the future?

Hello and welcome back to this set of articles on Free Software.

In my last article I talked about the need for free software and the motivations to start such a revolution, which eventually happend in 1984.

In this article I will continue the story and we will explore the level of impact Free Software has created on the world.

Indeed Free Software also refered to by many people as "Open source ", has made the digital world a much better place to stay in.

At least those who use FOSS don't face the dangers the proprietory softwares have created.

However it has been off late that free software has grown in popularity and as with every revolution, this one took time as well to impact the society.

There is an old english saying "you can fool some people for all the time and all people for some time, but you can't fool all the people for all the time ".

This one saying fits as the best reason why FOSS has gained so much popularity both at a common man's level and at the scale of industrial use.

The only problem today is that many of us are not aware of free software and how often we use it.
We don't realise that from search engines to telephone exchanges and from routers till set top boxes, free software is being used every where.

And if at all we know that there is some free software such as the gnu/linux operating system, we just know it is free of cost.

even worstMany people are aware about only the misconceptions about free software such as:
* it is not a commertially viable and professional solution which can be used in daily computing tasks or in main streem industry.
* it is absolutely unsupported commertially or non-commertially and is not at all userfriendly

But as I said these are just misconceptions and infact lack of awareness is the genesis of such wrong concepts.
Add to it proprietory software developing organisations have used all their marketing power to do negative propaganda about operating systems such as gnu/linux and high quality softwares like Open office or Firefox web browser.
However the Free Software Foundation has been a pivot around which the entire Free software Revolution has revolved and today there are many organisations involved in spreading awareness on Free and Open Source thus helping to clear the fear uncertainty and doubt about FOSS in the common man's mind.

It is high time that we come out of our proprietory software boxes and look around. All that is needed is to be a bit more positive about the digital technology. For example many of us believe that virus is a part of any software or operating system. But this is again a misconception and we take it for granted that it is an excepted reality. But virus is a feature (well a dirty feature ) of just one brand of operating system called Windows.
Also a common misconception about gnu/linux or popularly known as “Linux” is that it is totally commandline based and does not have softwares which are needed in daily computer use. This is not just a mith but the reality is exactly the other way round. The desktops running on linux are not just user friendly with all the GUI based softwares, but provide much more than the proprietory softwares provide.
Of course there is one thing which gnu/linux does not provide which windows does, the virus!

If some one asks me “how successful and popular is the Free and Open source revolution?” I just take the names of 2 extremly popular and high quality softwares. Mozila Firefox web browser and VLC media player. These two softwares have created history and go to show how successful the free software moment has been. They also prove that when public participation is allowed in software development, the result is obviously superior as compared to proprietory development modles where a few programmers decide what should the software do.

There are thousands of firefox extentions written by the public for the public.

Similarly when linux is installed on a computer we don't even realise that most of the devices work out-of-the-box. This is not a miracle but the result of huge contribution of device drivers from the free software community.

Again since the software is developed transparently and with public participation in the FOSS model, the quality is generally very very high because meny talented programmers write the code and collaborate openly. Not just that, the development cycle and the roadmap is open to public and even non-technical end-users can chip in suggestions or can help write documentation.

Moreover such development model has also given rise to a huge service oriented business because any one can start a software firm to customise already developed software and also provide support for the same.

Due to so many advantages, free and open source softwares are used in many mission critical tasks and in a lot of large and small enterprises.

Many South American countries make extensive use of FOSS in education and government administration.

Huge organisations like NASA in the United States and Life Insurance Corporation in India use gnu/linux as their main operating system.

And that google search engine which most of us use every now and then? Yes that too runs on gnu/linux. Who does not know wikipedia today? The entire wikipedia including the web application they use is Free Software and they too run exclusively on gnu/linux.

There are companies like Redhat and Canonical which provide commertial quality, professional support to those organisations which are running gnu/linux.

Reliance in India uses a lot of free software such as the python programming language for some of their applications.
And guess what? The number of downloads for firefox is fast approaching 1 billion!

Openoffice, Firefox, VLC, Thunderbird are just a few examples of how user friendly free software is. And distributions of linux such as Ubuntu can be easily installed and used by any one with little or know technical understanding.

All this just goes to show that Free and Open Source Softwares have really brought about a revolutionary change in the digital technology and whether we know it or not, we are already reeping the bennifits.

The question then is “why aren't we aware of such a big revolution and why such misconceptions?”
Obviously Free software revolution has come in the way of selfish businesses who have always exploited the technology users. For example Microsoft will naturally not like their custommers to know that an alternative exists which is not just extremly user friendly but also totally virus free. How would windows stand against an operating system which does not cost any thing for a license, and is developed transparantly and best of all it is totally virus free.

Due to such waisted interests, the big business houses systematically see to it that the common man and industry is kept in darkness and is remaining unaware about better alternatives.

This blog will attempt to reverce the dirty policies.

Keep coming to this blog for real case studies and also some technical articles for those who want to be a part of this wonderful free world of technology.