A Brief Essay on FOSS

As part of the application for a summer program at Princeton, I was asked to write an essay of ~400 words in length regarding any trend or issue.

Here’s the final revision of my essay on FOSS:

Open Source: The Sleeping Revolution

The drive for community-based interdependence has existed in many forms. In governments, it is present in socialism and communism. Some think of it as a so-called “circle of life”. In the last 15 years or so, however, a revolution has been slowly prevailing in the world of technology. Now, free open source software (FOSS) is achieving a point of critical mass that has made it the inevitable replacement to its proprietary counterparts.

Like the aforementioned communist and socialist-style government, FOSS is driven by the idea of a community. In socialism and communism, this often translated to the prevalence of the under-privileged at the expense of the privileged. This was, of course, not suited to the generally capitalistic world economy. On the other hand, FOSS does not suffer from this flaw because it is entirely independent of money to begin with. Unlike things like food and other goods, FOSS is truly free to everyone who wants to partake of it.

But what is responsible for the continuous rise in popularity of FOSS?

Most analysts note that while GNU/Linux and other free (“both in terms of beer and liberty”, as the saying goes) operating systems have also been gaining in terms of market share, FOSS has grown at a far more exponential rate. This is due to the tendency of FOSS to be cross-platform: generally being supported and usable under several different architectures and operating systems. Such examples are the highly popular Mozilla applications Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as OpenOffice.org’s Office Suite.

The question on the minds of most proprietary developers is “Why is FOSS quickly becoming a true alternative to its proprietary counterparts?” The answer lies in the developmental model of FOSS. While proprietary applications are written, or “cooked”, privately, or “in house”, for many months and then eventually released, FOSS is released early on and then incrementally updated over time with user input both in terms of usability and actual code. As a result, FOSS very closely mirrors the wants of the user, whereas proprietary software features what the developers think the user will want. Since FOSS also tends to have many minor releases, bugs and flaws in programs are also usually fixed extremely fast – unlike other non-FOSSs.

Some corporations are even recognizing the rising “threat” of FOSS. As recently as a few months ago, Bill Gates, owner and founder of Microsoft, stated that FOSS was the way of the future, and that if companies and their products didn’t rise to meet this challenge, that both home and enterprise users would be quick to adopt FOSS alternatives instead.

FOSS is the way of the future, and for all intents and purposes, I hope that the spirit of FOSS will let us leave behind such corporate tools as costly operating systems, vendor lock-ins, Digital Rights Management, and software patents.

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