What is FOSS?

Mm. Cupcakes. This frosting is really good, and its recipe is all yours!
I’m speaking at Utah Open Source conference next weekend. Yes, it will be a geekfest, but to say FOSS is only for geeks is like saying cupcakes are only for bakers.

This is a cupcake I made recently. I found a frosting recipe online, tweaked it to my liking, and then shared my changes with the world.

No offense to my favorite little bakery, but I dare say this cupcake was every bit as good as what I could have bought there.

“FOSS” stands for “Free and Open Source Software.” That is free as in free of charge, but it’s also free as in freedom.

All cupcakes have a list of ingredients and steps to make them, whether the baker chooses to share the recipe or not. All software has source code that makes it work, too.

Using closed source software is like eating from a bakery that never shares its recipes. Not a bad thing, really. But not very empowering, either.

Using open source software is like using a recipe. You can download it and use it as-is, or tweak it to your liking. Yes, it might require a bit of skill, time, and the right equipment. Just because I have a recipe does not mean I have a cupcake, instantly. But having a recipe DOES make it easier for me to make my own cupcakes when I’d like.

Are they just as good as what I could buy from the pros? Maybe. I would argue that when it comes to open source software, it can become even BETTER than what’s sold as closed-source, because you can have a whole community contributing their ideas to make it better.

Do I still buy cupcakes at Flour Girls and Dough Boys? Every now and then. Am I an expert baker? Not in the least. But because some expert bakers shared their knowledge with me, I do make a great cupcake.

I’m no more a software expert than I am an expert baker, but because of Open Source, I am all the more free. That’s what it’s all about.

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