Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

Dr. Niall Moran
May 2020

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  • 1969: Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie develop Unix at AT&T Bell Labs
  • 1973: Ported to C and released to educational institutions
  • Unix adopted by users and scientists around the world
  • Open collaborative development

GNU and the Free Software Foundation

  • 1980: AT&T start selling a commercial verison of Unix
  • 1983: Richard Stallman starts the GNU (GNU’s Not Unix) project
  • 1985: Free Software Foundation
  • 1989: GNU General Public License v1 established

GNU Public License

		     Version 1, February 1989

 Copyright (C) 1989 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
		    51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA  02110-1301  USA
 Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
 of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.


  The license agreements of most software companies try to keep users
at the mercy of those companies.  By contrast, our General Public
License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free
software--to make sure the software is free for all its users.  The
General Public License applies to the Free Software Foundation's
software and to any other program whose authors commit to using it.
You can use it for your programs, too.

GNU Public License contd.

  When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not
price.  Specifically, the General Public License is designed to make
sure that you have the freedom to give away or sell copies of free
software, that you receive source code or can get it if you want it,
that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free
programs; and that you know you can do these things.

  To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid
anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights.
These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you
distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.

  For example, if you distribute copies of a such a program, whether
gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that
you have.  You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the
source code.  And you must tell them their rights.

Birth of GNU/Linux

  • 1991: Linus Torvalds starts work on Linux kernel
  • Eric S. Raymond, “The Cathedral & the Bazaar” (1999) “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” Linus’s law

Growth and Challenges

  • 1995: Apache web server
  • 1998: Open Source Initiative
  • 1998: First Halloween document
  • 2001: IBM backs GNU/Linux with $1 billion
  • 2001: Microsoft CEO likens Linux to a malignant cancer
  • 2003: SCO patent claims
  • 2008: Google releases Android

FOSS and Scholarship

Connections and Use

  • FOSS movement influenced by openness of academia
  • Originated in computer science departments
  • Collaborative tools and methologies
  • Open Education Resources (emacs-reveal)
  • Creative Commons license and Free Culture

Benefits of FOSS in Scholarship

  • Enables faster innovation and progress (e.g. TensorFlow, PyTorch)
  • Reproducibility of numerical calculations/data processing
  • Provenance of results and analyses more important than ever

Software as an academic output

  • Encourages sharing, quality and documentation
  • Rewards efforts spent on development with impact
  • Journals provide DOI for source code:
    • Computer Physics Communications (Established 1969 at QUB)
    • Journal of Open Source Software (2016)
  • Funding opportunities for developement of FOSS software
  • Sustainability by fostering community of users

Future of FOSS

  • FOSS stronger than its ever been but some threats
  • Global shift towards tribalism Google vs. Huawei over Android
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) vs. Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS)
  • Closed hardware, drivers and firmware (IOT)

Diversity in FOSS

  • Gender divide and proportion of minorities worse than in general ICT/STEM
  • GitHub survey in 2017: 95% Men, 7% LGBTQ
  • Causes: toxicity and dismissivenes in online interactions
  • Use and enforcement of codes of conduct
  • Awards and organisations: RedHat women in open source award, PyLadies


Further Reading

  • Christopher J. Tozzi, For Fun and Profit (2017)
  • Steven Levy, Hackers (1994)
  • Glyn Moody, Rebel Code (2002)
  • Laurence Lessig, Free Culture (2004)
  • Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral & the Bazaar (1999)

License Information

Except where otherwise noted, the work “Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)”, © 2020 Niall Moran, is published under the Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0.

No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use.

In particular, trademark rights are not licensed under this license. Thus, rights concerning third party logos (e.g., on the title slide) and other (trade-) marks (e.g., “Creative Commons” itself) remain with their respective holders.