Benefits of using FOSS

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

1 Strategic Benefits

  • Developing local capacity/industry
  • Reducing imports/conserving foreign exchange
  • Enhancing national security
  • Reducing copyright infringements
  • Enabling localization
  • a) Developing local capacity/industry

    Developing local capacity falls into two main categories: the capacity to use and the capacity to develop software. although interrelated, FOSS assists in their development in different ways.

    Using Software

    The local capacity to utilize ICTs is traditionally held back by the high cost of both hardware and software.The ability to participate in the information society and build local knowledge communities is severely constrained when the cost of a basic operating system is equivalent to several years’ wages for the average citizen. FOSS alleviates this situation (though it can never totally eliminate it) in two ways: zero licensing cost and free redistribution. It is possible to obtain FOSS for almost any conceivable purpose without any licensing costs, thus reducing the cost barrier. FOSS is also freely redistributable, meaning that anyone can share software with a neighbour in need. Free (the F in FOSS) Software, in particular, holds this as one of its fundamental principles. Traditional proprietary software, no matter how low the costs, often cannot be freely redistributed in this manner.

    Developing Software

    A common problem faced by developing nations is the lack of development capacity. Where does a country obtain the human capacity required to sustain an ICT infrastructure? In this area, FOSS excels.For most developing countries, it is not that FOSS will make a non-existent industry more competitive but, rather, it allows a developing nation to kick-start its ICT industry and advance to a stage where it can begin to fully utilize the benefits of ICT internally. It has been noted that there is a positive correlation between the growth of a FOSS developer base and the innovative software capacities of an economy. A report from the International Institute of Infonomics lists manythree reasons for this.

    • Low barriers to entry:FOSS, which encourages free modification and redistribution, is easy to obtain, use and learn from.FOSS allows developers to build on existing knowledge and pre-built components,much like basic research
    • FOSS as an excellent training system:The open and collaborative nature of FOSS allows a student or software engineer to examine and experiment with software concepts at virtually no direct cost to society. Apart from the source code and software tools that FOSS provides, there are many technical manuals, guides and ‘how-tos’ provided in every FOSS distribution.
    • 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.

    Additionally, the current business models structured around FOSS are primarily based on services, rather than on products. This makes it much more likely that a FOSS based company will have the majority of its staff in the country that it sells to and will thus reinvest its profits there.

    b) Reducing Imports/Conserving Foreign Exchange

    FOSS, by the nature of its licensing terms, can be obtained at little or no cost, and therefore, saves a massive amount of foreign exchange.

    c) Enhancing National Security

    Proprietary software is normally distributed in binary format; therefore it is difficult to reverse-engineer and to understand exactly what a program does. Although the opaqueness of the binary format offers limited protection to the intellectual property of the software maker, it engenders mistrust and suspicion.

    d) Reducing Copyright Infringements

    Copyright infringements in the form of unauthorized duplication of software (often called software piracy) are a problem in almost every country around the world. The Business Software Alliance estimates that unauthorized software copying in 2002 alone costed US$13.08 billion. Even in developed nations where software is affordable in theory, software copyright infringement rates were as high as 24 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe. The rates in developing countries, where lower incomes make software far more expensive, are upwards of 90 percent. Copyright infringement and lax laws can and often do hurt a country in many ways. A country with a poor track record in copyright protection is not as attractive to foreign investors.

    e) Enabling Localization

    Countries where English is not commonly spoken can be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the uptake and dissemination of ICTs. If the country and language are not deemed to be commercially important, proprietary software makers may not choose to produce a localized version of their software, thereby increasing the barriers to ICT usage.Localization is one of the areas where FOSS becomes a preferred option 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 needed is a number of individuals possessing the technical capability 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 98 would have made computing in Iceland’s national language almost impossible if it were not for the emergence of FOSS alternatives.Few countries cite localization as a motivating factor but localization efforts exist in most non-English speaking countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

2 Economic Benefits

  • Increasing competition
  • Reducing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Enhancing security
  • Achieving vendor independence
  • Increasing Competition

    FOSS breaks down the barriers to entry by providing to software companies a feature-rich, high-quality base of software to build on. When utilizing FOSS, software companies compete on the services and additional innovations that they add to the existing FOSS base, rather than reaping financial benefits from research and development performed many years ago. Depending on the FOSS license and corporate business model, these benefits often find their way back into the FOSS base, resulting in a larger base of software for new entrants to build on. New entrants into the software industry do not need to spend decades reinventing existing software. Instead, they are free to focus on innovations and the additional functionality that the market demands.

    b) Reducing Total Cost of Ownership

    FOSS applications save money in several ways. The most obvious is through the lack of licensing fees,since FOSS can be freely redistributed without licensing fees. However, FOSS also lowers costs through means that can be much harder to quantify, such as better security, ease of administration, cross-platform availability, and others. There are only a limited number of TCO studies showing the total cost of running FOSS systems versus proprietary systems. These studies analyze multiple cost factors other than software licensing costs,including maintenance, personnel and opportunity costs from service disruptions. Several have been very positive towards FOSS:

    • A TCO study performed by the Robert Frances Group showed that GNU/Linux costs roughly 40 percent of Microsoft Windows and as low as 14 percent of Sun Microsystem’s Solaris.
    • NetProject reported that the TCO of GNU/Linux was 35 percent of Microsoft Window’s TCO.Even more interesting was that the saving was due not just to licensing costs but also various other costs, including reduction in the number of support staff and software updates that results from using GNU/Linux.
    • Gartner reported that using GNU/Linux in a “locked” configuration resulted in a roughly 15 percent lower TCO compared to Windows XP.

    3 Social Benefits

    Increasing access to information

    4 other Benefits

    • 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.

    • 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.


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