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What is FOSS?

FOSS stands for 'Free and Open Source Software'. It is a movement started in 1983 by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). 'Free' in this context refers to 'freedom' (as in free speech), not price (although FOSS also tends to be). As the FSF says "Free software is a matter of liberty not price" and this is an important distinction to make. Many pieces of software out there claim to be 'free', and I'm sure you have heard of terms like 'freeware' and 'shareware'. These types of software tend to be free (as in price) but not free (as in freedom).

All the software that you run on your computer has been created to work on your operating system. If you use Microsoft Windows, then the software has been 'packaged' to run on Windows. If you use Apple's OSX or even Linux then the same rule applies. Software that is 'packaged' and installed onto your computer generally exists in what is called 'binary' form or, as an 'executable'.

Binary software is 'locked' in a sense because it is in computer language. This means that it is virtually impossible for humans to see how it operates and what it is actually doing! A good example of this is spyware and virus software. When these applications are installed onto a machine it is very hard to work out exactly what they are doing. They could be sending your banking information across the internet, or grabbing all of your important passwords. You just don't know, because they are locked.

All computer programs are first written by humans in readable language, which is called 'source code'. Microsoft owns the source code to Windows and their products, as does Apple to theirs, etc. Think about a computer virus. If we had the source code to the virus, we would know exactly what it does, and could easily stop it. The virus creators, Microsoft, Apple and others do not release their code to the public, which means no-one can tell what their software is actually doing.

There are software creators around the world however, who believe that everyone has the right to know exactly what the software on their computer is doing. Not only do they release 'packaged' versions of the software but more importantly, these people make the source code to their software freely available for everyone. This is called 'open source'. One great example of open source software is Mozilla Firefox a free web browser for Linux, Windows and OSX, which is safe and secure. For more examples of open source software, read on (or click here to visit now).

In essence you can only trust open source software, because it is freely available for everyone to read in human form and see exactly what the software does. For this reason governments, other agencies, schools and individuals all around the world are switching to the security of open source software (and so should you!).

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