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Guest editors’ introduction

Free and Open


Source Software
Keith W. Miller, University of Illinois at Springfield
Jeffrey Voas, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Tom Costello, UpStreme

T
imes change. In 2001, a Microsoft execu- In the 1950s and early 1960s, computer software
tive publically stated that “open source was mainly the concern of academics and cor-
is an intellectual property destroyer. porate researchers, so it was treated more like
I can’t imagine something that could be scholarly work (in the public domain) than a pro-
worse than this for the software business and the prietary asset. Computer manufacturers focused
intellectual-property business.”1 Today, Microsoft on selling hardware, so they threw in the soft-
has an official open source presence on the Web ware for free. Both IBM and DEC had active user
(www.microsoft.com/opensource), and in July groups that shared tips and software with other
2010, Jean Paoli, the General Manager for Interop- users.
erability Strategy at Microsoft, delivered a keynote In the second half of the 1960s, as software
address at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention. costs increased for manufacturers, software was
Historically, free and open source software either bundled with hardware or priced sepa-
(FOSS) pioneers, such as Richard Stallman and rately. Licensing agreements and copyright pro-
Linus Torvalds, were the public faces of a move- tection became common ways to legally protect
ment widely thought to be outside the mainstream software. In 1966, the UK issued what was prob-
of commercial software. But now, corporate en- ably the first software patent.2
tities are big players in FOSS. Microsoft, IBM, In 1984, Richard Stallman launched the GNU
Oracle, and State Farm are just a few of the “big project (www.gnu.org). Stallman, who also
name” companies with serious public stakes in founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF),
open source technologies. has been an outspoken and controversial ad-
It seems sensible, then, for IT Pro to revisit the vocate for free software. GNU’s General Pub-
history of FOSS and take a closer look at FOSS lic License (GPL), which has several different
today. versions, has been widely influential. However,
GNU’s success didn’t lead to a monolithic
A Review of FOSS movement led by Stallman; rather, different
A few of you might be old enough to remember groups have championed slightly different li-
when “free” was the standard term for software. censing agreements.

14 IT Pro November/December 2010 Published by the IEEE Computer Society 1520-9202/10/$26.00 © 2010 IEEE
Another important group, founded in 1998, is competition between the two keeps the software
the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Although both marketplace in check with added diversity and
FSF and OSI promote alternatives to proprietary, innovation.
closed-source software, relations haven’t always With that as a background as to how we got
been cordial between the two organizations. to where we are today, we now introduce the
Stallman has accused the OSI of ignoring impor- four articles selected for this special issue of
tant freedoms in favor of corporations, while OSI IT Pro.
proponents have criticized Stallman for his overly
rigid “social activism” (see http://en.wikipedia. In This Issue
org/wiki/History_of_Free_Software). Despite The first article, “Open Source Software Con-
their distinct philosophical views of FOSS, Stall- siderations for Law Enforcement,” by Mun-Wai
man and others insist that FSF and OSI, as well Hon, Greg Russell, and Michael Welch, explores
as other independent producers of FOSS, are the benefits of FOSS for state and local govern-
allies. ments. It presents the three key benefits to such
Some of the distinctions between different organizations: low initial acquisition costs, the
kinds of FOSS licenses require detailed study,
which we don’t have space for in this brief in- FOSS and commercial software
troduction. However, some common themes
are noteworthy. Unless a piece of software is need each other; the competition
declared public domain (no copyright protection between the two keeps the software
claimed at all), FOSS legal protections are based
on copyright law. All FOSS gives users access to marketplace in check.
the source code.
One distinction is important to mention: some ability to analyze source code for backdoors and
FOSS licenses (chief among them, FSF’s GPL other security risks, and system interoperabil-
licenses) require that any software that uses ity. Then it discusses generic complaints about
software protected under the GPL must be dis- FOSS—such as the lack of technical support—
tributed under a GPL license. This is the “viral” but also mentions complaints specific to law en-
and “copyleft” provision. Some open source ad- forcement, such as the lack of relevant applications.
vocates consider copyleft optional. Thus, OSI Another issue it raises is the difficulty FOSS us-
accepts FSF’s GPL license, but it also endorses ers face when they’re more accustomed to Micro­
some licenses that FSF rejects. soft and other widely used commercial products,
Despite a good deal of controversy between which have a more universal look and feel.
the different organizations involved in promot- The second article, “Free/Open Services,”
ing FOSS, there’s a long list of thriving FOSS deals with services instead of software. The au-
projects. If you or your organization uses GNU/ thors, G.R. Gangadharan, Vincenzo D’Andrea,
Linux, TeX, Mozilla Firefox, the Apache server, and Michael Weiss, propose applying the con-
the Open Office suite, or Java, then FOSS is part cepts behind FOSS to services to advance the
of your technical world. field of service-oriented computing. They ar-
FOSS has also inspired many academic re- gue that by having access to the source code of
searchers. Economists are interested in the the interfaces, novel composite and derivative
business model of entities that often give away services can be created. Although they admit
products. Ethicists study the motivations of pro- that their proposal is far from endorsed by tra-
grammers involved in FOSS projects and the ditional service providers, they argue that their
philosophical impact of a viable alternative to vision will expand the number of services avail-
proprietary software. Computer scientists are able, widen the adoption of computing services
examining the technical effectiveness of a devel- in general, and be a benefit to the community
opment model that employs “many hands,” only of subscribers who rely on access to computing
a few of whom make their living developing or services.
maintaining FOSS. And never forget that FOSS In “Community Source Software in Higher
and commercial software need each other; the Education,” Harry Jiannan Wang, Jon Blue,

computer.org/ITPro 15
Guest Editors’ Introduction

and Mathieu Plourde discuss the increased use of 2. K. Bresford, Patenting Software under the European Patent
FOSS in higher education. More specifically, they Convention, Sweet & Maxwell, 2000, p. 4.
discuss community source—code that’s created
by a broad set of volunteers—in contrast to com-
mercial open source. Here, the authors narrow Keith W. Miller is the Schewe Professor of Computer
their focus further to community source that’s Science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. His
being developed for and by educators. To better research interests include computer ethics, software test-
explain their story to present practical experi- ing, and online learning. He’s the editor in chief of IEEE
ences with FOSS, the authors walk us through Technology and Society. Contact him at miller.keith@
the Sakai learning and collaboration system via a uis.edu.
case study showing how the University of Dela-
ware put the principles of FOSS into practice. Jeffrey Voas is a computer scientist at the National In-
The last article is “Open Source for Enter- stitute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He also
prise Geographic Information Systems,” by serves as the IEEE Computer Society’s second vice president
David A. Garbin and James L. Fisher. It pres- (2010) and is IEEE Division VI’s Director-Elect (2010).
ents yet another case study where open source Contact him at j.voas@ieee.org.
software addresses a concern of public impor-
tance: the use of geographic information sys- Tom Costello is CEO of UpStreme, a business and tech-
tems for analytic modeling to digest weather nology management consultancy with practice specialties in
and climate information and to predict how enterprise strategies and software logistics. Contact him at
events are likely to unfold. For example, users tcostello@upstreme.com or www.upstreme.com.
can take predicted weather patterns and overlay
them on existing land infrastructures (such as
roads, bridges, or buildings) to determine what
is likely to be most affected. The authors go on Selected CS articles and columns are available
to argue that FOSS solutions for this important for free at http://ComputingNow.computer.org.
area of societal impact are more cost effective
and flexible that existing commercial offerings,
once again showing the cost benefit to the pub-
lic sector from FOSS.

W
e hope you find the articles in this spe-
cial issue insightful. We welcome your
feedback.

Acknowledgments
We may identify certain products or companies in this document,
but such identification does not imply recommendation by the
US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) or
other agencies of the US government, nor does it imply that the
products or companies identified are necessarily the best available
for the purpose. This article was not coauthored by Jeffrey Voas as
a NIST employee. It reflects Voas’s opinion—not the opinions of
the US Department of Commerce or NIST.

References
1. B. Charny, “Microsoft Raps Open-Source Ap-
proach,” CNET News, 3 May 2001; http://news.cnet.
com/2100-1001-257001.html&tag=mncol%3btxt.

16 IT Pro November/December 2010