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Benefits of using FOSS

Benefits of using FOSS

Besides the low cost of FOSS, there are many other reasons why organizations are aggressively adopting FOSS. These include:

Economic benefits of FOSS :

  • Security - Hacking attempts on servers are frequent, malware, trojans and viruses are commonplace and tools to help the hacker are readily available. No software is 100% immune from security vulnerabilities but the open source process itself delivers superior security performance.The Open Source development model and inherent security of Linux mean vastly improved protection from attack, and consequently less downtime and maintenance costs. Of the 1709 viruses reported in the latest "wildlist.org" report for March 2007, NONE of them would infect a Linux based computer. When a vulnerability is identified, it is often fixed in a matter of hours; proprietary software vendors sometimes take months to even announce the existence of a problem to its customers.

    Three reasons are often cited for FOSS’s better security record:

      1. Availability of source code: The availability of the source code for FOSS systems has made it easier for developers and users to discover and fix vulnerabilities, often before a flaw can be exploited. Many of the vulnerabilities of FOSS listed in Bugtraq were errors discovered during periodic audits and fixed without any known exploits. FOSS systems normally employ proactive rather than reactive audits.

      2. Security focus, instead of user-friendliness: FOSS can be said to run a large part of the Internet25 and is therefore more focused on robustness and functionality, rather than ease of use. Before features are added to any major FOSS application, its security considerations are considered and the feature is added only if it is determined not to compromise system security.

      3. Roots: FOSS systems are mostly based on the multi-user, network-ready Unix model. Because of this, they come with a strong security and permission structure. Such models were critical when multiple users shared a single powerful server—that is, if security was weak, a single user could crash the server, steal private data from other users or deprive other users of computing resources. Consequently, vulnerabilities in most applications result in only a limited security breach.

  • Reliability/Stability : FOSS systems are well known for their stability and reliability. There are many anecdotal stories of FOSS servers functioning for years without requiring maintenance. However, quantitative studies are more difficult to come by. In 1999 Zdnet ran a 10-month reliability test between Red Hat Linux, Caldera Systems OpenLinux and Microsoft’s Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3. All three ran on identical hardware systems and performed printing, web serving and file serving functions. The result was that NT crashed once every six weeks but none of the FOSS systems crashed at all during the entire 10 months.

  • Open standards and vendor independence : Open standards give users, whether individuals or governments, flexibility and the freedom to change between different software packages, platforms and vendors. Proprietary, secret standards lock users into using software only from one vendor and leave them at the mercy of the vendor at a later stage, when all their data is in the vendor’s proprietary format and the costs of converting them to an open standard is prohibitive.

Open standards allow products from different vendors to work together and also prevent business from getting "tied" to a single product from a single vendor. This is becoming increasingly important with regards to document storage and archival. The ODF (Open Document Format) is an OSI approved standard and allows any vendor, whether they are Open Source or proprietary, to use a common document format; meaning your files will always be readable without having to pay for the latest Office application upgrade for example.

  • Cost : Open source software is usually available at no cost and easily obtained as a download from the internet. Open source licences are written to allow you to use the software again and again with no mandatory per-seat or per-server costs. Future versions of the same software are also available at zero cost although you are not forced to upgrade just to receive support or to continue to be able to interoperate with your partners, customers or stakeholders.

Social benefits of FOSS :

  • Reduced reliance on imports : A major incentive for developing countries to adopt FOSS systems is the enormous cost of proprietary software licenses. Because virtually all proprietary software in developing countries is imported, their purchase consumes precious hard currency and foreign reserves. These reserves could be better spent on other development goals.

  • Developing local software capacity : It has been noted that there is a positive correlation between the growth of a FOSS developer base and the innovative capacities (software) of an economy. A report from the International Institute of Infonomics lists three reasons for this :

      1) Low barriers to entry: FOSS, which encourages free modification and redistribution, is easy to obtain, use and learn from. Proprietary software tends to be much more restrictive, not just in the limited availability of source code, but due to licensing, patent and copyright limitations. FOSS allows developers to build on existing knowledge and pre-built components, much like basic research.

      2) FOSS as an excellent training system: The open and collaborative nature of FOSS allows a student to examine and experiment with software concepts at virtually no direct cost to society. Likewise, a student can tap into the global collaborative FOSS development network that includes massive archives of technical information and interactive discussion tools.

      3) FOSS as a source of standards: FOSS often becomes a de facto standard by virtue of its dominance in a particular sector of an industry. By being involved in setting the standards in a particular FOSS application, a region can ensure that the standard produced takes into account regional needs and cultural considerations.

  • Piracy, IPR, and WTO : Software piracy is a problem in almost every country around the world. The Business Software Alliance estimates that software piracy in 2002 alone cost US$13.08 billion. Even in developed nations where software is affordable in theory, piracy rates were as high as 24 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe. Piracy rates in developing countries, where lower incomes make software far more expensive, are upwards of 90 percent.

      Software piracy and lax laws against it can and does hurt a country in many ways. A country with poor protection for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is not as attractive to foreign investors. Membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and access to its benefits are strongly affected by the level of protection given to IPR in a country. Finally, a culture of software piracy hurts local software development, as there is less incentive for local software developers to create a local product.

  • Localization : Localization is one of the areas where FOSS shines because of its open nature. Users are able to modify FOSS to suit the unique requirements of a particular cultural region, regardless of economic size. All that is necessary is the technical capability within a small number of individuals to create a minimally localized version of any FOSS. While the construction of a completely localized software platform is no small feat, it is at least possible. Microsoft’s decision in 1998 against producing an Icelandic version of Windows 9835 would have had serious implications if it were not for the emergence of FOSS alternatives. Most initial FOSS initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region have dealt with localizing FOSS. More details on localization can be found in the “Localization and Internationalization” section of this primer.

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