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Questions and Answers
- There is no short answer to this. See the more specific questions ...
- At first this is how things were done (see the Open Knowledge history, above), but that was when most computer users were very technical and didn't depend on easy installation and easy computer operation. Proprietary software followed, introducing features which made it easier for non-technical people to acquire (through resellers) and more easily use computers, through better interfaces. In time, most computer users were non-technical, creating a large market for proprietary software. Over the same time, the people who had been sharing software before proprietary software became the norm, helped to create the modern Internet. This Internet, in turn, allowed these code sharers to share code and ideas at an unprecedented rate. Contributions and corrections helped fuel a huge rise in the quality and quantity of this shared code-base. Once the fundamentals of function had been achieved for this shared source software, then attention was devoted to making it easier to install, manage and use for non-technical users. The Internet also provided a friction-free distribution vehicle for this software, which, for the first time now with widespread broadband uptake, provides a compelling alternative to packaged software. In short, as things are trending, the processes which strengthen and polish shared/open source software and distribute it to the world's 700 million (and growing) Internet users will help it achieve total ubiquity in the medium to long term.
- The free, base-level support for most open source programs is provided by the author(s) and user-community which has become established around this program. Obviously, the more prevalent the program, the more well-known, the more widely-used and well-established it is, the greater the likelihood that this community support group is broad and capable. Therefore, hugely popular programs like Perl, Apache, Linux and FreeBSD have litelly tens of thousands of skilled practitions available to assist.
- Beyond this core of support are commercial concerns which have arisen to provide fee-for-service offerings into a growing market for successful open source software projects. In Australia, almost all the main IT vendors such as IBM, Sun, Novell, Oracle, Computer Associates, as well as specialist open source firms such as Red Hat and MySQL, provide full enterprise commercial support for open source technologies.
- Austrlian firms also cover much of this technology spectrum, offering support and services. Best estimates indicate that there are around 400-500 such firms, broadly distributed around the country. Some of these are beginning to be listed here www.osia.net.au/members
Surprisingly, FOSS is nothing but copyright law. It may have elements of contract law but, typically the right to use and distribute software licensed under an open source licence is driven entirely from the copyright law. What's more, at least for the GPL, it has been specifically designed in this way. Copyright is a legislative monopoly. It has its origins in a censorship regime which itself has its origins in the Reformation and Counter Reformation. The earliest copyright legislation not solely serving a censorship purpose is the Statute of Anne (1709). For a more detailed history see this paper.
- Nothing for the right to use the software, but there may be transition costs and administration costs, as you would get with any other software. Analysis and anecdotal evidence suggests that there could be a 4:1 reduction in adminstrative workload when comparing Windows platform TCO to Linux/open source TCO, in open source's favour. Source: techupdate.zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/main/0,14179,2907876,00.html
Copyright was extended to cover software in Australia in June 1984 (and the US in 1980), so it is a very recent legislative extension of the copyright monopoly. The High Court of Australia has held that, prior to that time, it was legal to make soft copies of computer programs (Computer Edge Pty Ltd v. Apple Computer Inc. (1986) 161 CLR 171). Copyright in a work (usually) vests in the author of that work provided that the work meets certain criteria. Copyright is the entitlement to a collection of monopolies over actions. In Australian law, these entitlements include monopolies over:
The extent of these monpolies is defined by such things as fair dealing rights. However, to the extent of their definition, they are absolute monopolies.
- reproduction of a substantial part of a work in material form;
- making an adaptation of the work, translating the work; and
- authorising the doing of any of those (so, by merely telling someone they can make a copy of something can of itself be an infringement of copyright).
A natural consequence of these monopolies vesting in a person is that no other person can perform any of those acts without the permission of the copyright holder. This is where licensing comes in. A licence is simply another word for permission. If I have your licence (or if I license you) to do an act, then I have your permission to do that act. Note: In the US "licences" don't exist (they are called "licenses").
FOSS licences are the means by which you (and any other person) is permitted to do something which would otherwise be absolutely prohibited by law. Without the copyright law an open source licence would be unenforceable. It is therefore utterly false to suggest that to support open source is to oppose copyright. Without copyright open source licensing would not function.
When copyright was extended to cover software, the thinking was that the most effective way of utilising it would be to use copyright as a means to jealously guard a person's software. Since that time consumers of software have seen the evolution of serial monopolies and anti-competitive licensing practices (in fact, software licensing is actually excluded from most of the prohibitions on restrictive trade practices in Part IV of the Trade Practices Act 1974). This has lead to inefficiency in the market and high prices for consumers. Open source takes a critical look at that approach. It says instead that market efficiency is maximised when copyright is used to foster and support community participation. That is, when the market for software is subject to effective deregulation. In other words, FOSS converts the old command economy model, where one vendor controls the evolution of a software package, into a free software market, where many vendors are able to compete in relation to the evolution of that package.
- There are dozens of open source licences. These are viewable here: www.opensource.org/licenses/
- Once again, it helps if we look at an explicit example in order to better illuminate our topic.
- The GPL is by far the most widely used open source licence.
- Firstly, it is important to note that most open source licences, including the GPL, focus on specifying rights and limitations on the modification and redistribution of source code and modified binary code.
- The GPL is grounded in standard copyright law, with some superstructure. In essence, it gives users of any property released under its tutelage, specific rights:
- the right to use in any way they want;
- the right to modify in any way they want, to suit their needs;
- the right to redistribute the source-code modifications;
- the right to use any of the code in your own programs without having to reveal your programs' source code, as long as you don't distribute your programs' binaries outside your organisation.
- the right to redistribute non-modified binaries.
- There are also some restrictions. You cannot modify the source code and redistribute the resultant binary files without explicitly making your code modifications available to that user(s).
- Furthermore, you cannot extract source code from a GPL program and include it into your program then distribute only the binaries of that resultant program.
- The GPL is an all-or-nothing proposition. If you agree to its terms, you are free to use the source code in all the proscribed manners. if you do not, the GPL ceases to apply to you, removing any rights of redistrubution. Copying and distributing another's GPL code without complying with the terms would therefore equate to breaking standard copyright law.
- Kudos, and money. Just as for proprietary software.
- This needs some explanation however. Most software globally is not created to be published and sold. Most programmers are paid to create custom or bespoke applications. There are advantages for some/much of this software to be released as open source, to be improved and to provide a ready community of developers for hire. Therefore, many enlightened firms help foster such developer hubs around technology which they would otherwise have paid for anyway.
- Additionally, many IT vendors do not focus on selling software, but on hardware or services. For these firms, software is a means-to-an-end. Paying for software do be written, then released and improved, brings benefits and doesn't detract from that firms' core business; selling hardware, services or training etc.
- All open source programmers enjoy what they do. Some, additionally, see writing (and signing) quality code as a ticket to new jobs, using it as advertising to prospective employers. Many Australians have been hired by overseas IT firms using this approach.
- Open Source developers are the only professionals who enjoy a situation where an individual can become the best in their field with completely free access to tools and documentation. It is an important differentiation and something that needs to be protected.
- Some open source developers are trained using the standard approached used for proprietary platforms and languages. However, there are some additional, unique ways in which FOSS developers learn their trade. The open source space is well known for its culture of sharing; sharing ideas, sharing code, sharing learning. Older developers are therefore very keen to tutor juniors. They can do this by offering code, by working through problems using any number of online group-communication tools (IRC, instant messaging) and at technical conferences, which the vendor-marketing-speak-free FOSS world is well catered for.
- Perhaps the best way that new programmers learn how to program in 'the open source method', is to watch it happen live, on platforms such as Savannah and SourceForge. They can see the code being built, day-by-day, live. They can download and play with (or build) the source code. This is very empowering for those who have come from a proprietary background and can be a tad daunting in the early stages. Large open source projects like OpenOffice.org and Linux are huge, hitting many million-lines-of-code, and take some digesting. However, when enough effort is put into it, this new programmer gains a substantial insight into such complex software, whilst learning how to operate in the obviously complex world of an online/virutal community, with its own problems, politics and joys.
- It depends on who you are and what you want. Opensource.org.au is a great place to start. It gives a listing of groups in Australia, what they do and who they are.
- Open Source is clearly defined here: www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php
- Open Standards are very loosely defined. In short, a document or agreement which stipulates a patent un-encumbered method, approach, format or protocol exists, from which various bodies, vendors or organistions can create implementations in software.
- Formal standards, such as ITU, ISO, NIST, POSIX and Standards Australia standards exist.
- Informal open standards also exist. These are where platforms or codebases are openly published, thus providing a friction-free mechanism to instantiate competitors.
- Whilst most open source programs are not necessarily based on formal open standards, they can result in creating an informal open standard, purely due to the fact they reveal all that one would need to reverse-engineer a system which interoperates with the original.
Q: What are the privacy implications of FOSS?