Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Free & Open-Source Software

The terms Free Software and Open-Source Software often are used interchangeably though a certain Robert Stallman could have a thing or two to say about that. The first of these refers to freedom in the sense that you can do whatever you want with the software. That even means reprogramming it if it doesn’t do what you need. The whole concept began in the mid-1980’s and has grown since then.

The term Open-Source means that you can look at the source code though that apparently doesn’t mean that you always can do what you want with it. For that, it needs to be in the software licence and that’s where GPL, the GNU Public Licence, comes, though there also are competing licences such as those from BSD, which are far more permissive and business-friendly.

What GPL and its counterparts do not restrict is the ability to earn money from the software. You only have to look at what Red Hat earns to see that it can be done. It also means that open-source software (even the copylefted GPL-licensed variety) need not be free of charge.

In practice though, it is amazing what you get without paying for it. Whole Linux distributions with a wide selection of software coming with the operating system are a big example and there are many different ones too. When you see what Microsoft offers for a fee, it could come as a fair shock.

With that in mind, I thought it to be useful to offer an insight into the world of open-source software, especially give how much choice there is. It’s good to have options though that they can confound when they’re so many. However, recent instances of new software releases not being to users’ tastes make it a more important attribute than ever before.

There used to be a single list of what I thought worth highlighting, but that’s been divided now it got every, very long. Here are the categories that I have used for dividing up things so that they might be more useful:

Operating Systems

While Ubuntu or Linux Mint are among the most prominent of the Linux bunch, there are a multitude of others. Then, there are UNIX counterparts and the ones that I have found largely are based on BSD UNIX though there are OpenSolaris forks out there too. As if that weren’t all, some Linux distros are looking at using BSD UNIX kernels in addition to the ones that they usually have so that hybridisation cannot be ignored either.

Assorted Desktop Packages

This selection is all desktop software and then only a little sample of what there is to be found. Some make their way onto installation discs, but others have to be sought. All should do the work for which they’re designed, though.

Desktop Environments

While other operating systems typical offer you one interface at a time, Linux and UNIX have a tendency to offer plenty of choice. Sometimes, it’s the cause of controversy too, although major changes made to the two main players have meant fewer arguments between any advocates for either. In their stead, we have had moaning about what an open-source project has done on its users. Hopefully, that will subside though a meeting of minds may be needed for that in one case.

Web Servers

Websites would not exist without web servers and it was a choice between Apache’s open source HTTPD and Microsoft’s proprietary IIS until the upstart Nginx made its appearance. It, too, is open source and has been popping up in all sorts of places so it was time to make a short list for the sake of reference.

Databases & Programming

UNIX and Linux tend to attract those with an interest in technical computing, so programming and scripting languages remain an integral part of those operating systems, as can databases too. Here are a few of each.

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