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LPI Linux Essentials Exam 010-160 - 1.3 Open Source Software and Licensing

In today's ever-evolving tech world, the idea of open source is making waves. It's not just about creating software; it's a way of thinking that emphasizes sharing, teamwork, and innovation. This detailed guide aims to give you a solid understanding of key aspects of open source: what it's all about, the different types of open source licenses, and the important organizations that drive this movement, like the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Open Source Philosophy

The Origin of Open Source

Open source has its roots in the early days of computing when people like Richard Stallman started a movement that challenged traditional, closed-off software practices. They paved the way for a new approach to technology.


The terms FOSS and FLOSS both refer to software licensing and development models that prioritize open collaboration, transparency, and user freedom. They are closely related concepts, and the primary difference between them lies in the specific words used to describe the philosophy and practices behind open-source software.


FOSS stands for "Free and Open Source Software." It emphasizes two key principles:

  • Freedom: FOSS is centered around the idea that users should have the freedom to run, study, modify, and distribute software. This freedom is often encapsulated in the "Four Freedoms" defined by the Free Software Foundation (FSF):
    • The freedom to run the program as you wish for any purpose.
    • The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs.
    • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.
    • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.
  • Open Source: FOSS software is open source, meaning that its source code is readily available for anyone to view, modify, and contribute to. This open collaboration promotes transparency and community-driven development.


FLOSS stands for "Free, Libre, and Open Source Software." It incorporates the principles of FOSS but adds an additional term:

  • Free: Similar to FOSS, FLOSS emphasizes the importance of user freedom. The term "libre" is often used to stress the concept of free software in the sense of liberty, as opposed to merely being free of cost. In this context, "free" doesn't refer to price but to the freedom to use, modify, and share the software.
  • Libre: This term, derived from the French word for "free," underscores the idea that users should have the freedom to control the software they use. It aligns closely with the FSF's Four Freedoms.
  • Open Source: Just like FOSS, FLOSS software is open source, meaning that its source code is available for public inspection and collaboration.

In essence, the primary difference between FOSS and FLOSS is the inclusion of the term "Libre" in the latter, which places a stronger emphasis on the philosophical and ethical aspects of software freedom. FLOSS is often favored by individuals and organizations who want to highlight the idea that software should not only be open but also empower users with true freedom and control over their computing environments. These terms, however, ultimately promote the same core values of open collaboration, transparency, and user freedom in the world of software development.

Free vs Open Source Software

Free software and open source software are closely related concepts, but they are not exactly the same. Free software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), emphasizes user freedom, which includes the freedom to use, study, modify, and distribute the software. Open source software, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of the source code and the ability to collaborate openly, but it may not always guarantee the same level of user freedom as free software. Here are some examples of both:

Free Software Examples

  • GNU/Linux Operating System: The GNU/Linux operating system, often referred to as Linux, is a prime example of free software. It's a complete operating system that provides users with the freedom to use, modify, and distribute it.
  • GNU Bash: The GNU Bash (Bourne Again Shell) is a popular command-line shell for Unix-like operating systems. It's free software and is widely used in the Linux ecosystem.
  • LibreOffice: LibreOffice is a powerful office suite that includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. It is a free software alternative to proprietary office suites.
  • GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): GIMP is a versatile image editing and graphic design software that is free software. It offers a wide range of features for image manipulation.
  • VLC Media Player: VLC is a multimedia player that can play a wide variety of audio and video formats. It is free software and is known for its cross-platform compatibility.

Open Source Software Examples

  • Apache HTTP Server: The Apache HTTP Server, commonly known as Apache, is a widely-used open source web server software. It powers a significant portion of websites on the internet.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Firefox is an open source web browser developed by Mozilla. It is known for its speed, privacy features, and extensibility through add-ons.
  • WordPress: WordPress is an open source content management system (CMS) that powers a large number of websites and blogs. It allows users to create and manage websites easily.
  • (Apache OpenOffice):, or Apache OpenOffice, is an open source office suite similar to LibreOffice. It provides free and open source alternatives to proprietary office software.
  • MySQL: MySQL is an open source relational database management system (RDBMS). It is widely used for web applications and is known for its speed and reliability.

Open Source Licensing

Open source software is governed by licenses that determine how it can be used and shared. There are two main types of licenses:

Copyleft Licenses

Copyleft licenses, exemplified by the GNU General Public License (GPL), are a category of open-source licenses with a strong emphasis on preserving and promoting the open nature of software. These licenses enforce a "viral" or "share-alike" principle, which means that any modifications or derivative works created from software under a copyleft license must also be distributed under the same terms. This requirement ensures that the code, and any improvements or modifications made to it, remains open source and accessible to the community. Copyleft licenses are rooted in the philosophy of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the concept of software freedom. They prioritize user rights, transparency, and collaboration, making them a powerful tool for building and maintaining open-source ecosystems. The GPL, in particular, has been a driving force behind the success of numerous open-source projects, including the Linux operating system.

Permissive Licenses

In contrast to copyleft licenses, permissive licenses, such as the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, take a more flexible and accommodating approach to open-source licensing. Permissive licenses permit developers to use, modify, and distribute code with fewer restrictions. They do not impose requirements on derivative works to be open source. This flexibility allows developers to incorporate code licensed under permissive terms into a wide range of projects, including proprietary software. Permissive licenses prioritize the freedom to choose how to use the code over ensuring that derived works remain open. They have played a crucial role in fostering innovation and collaboration by enabling the seamless integration of open-source components into both open and closed source projects. The BSD license, for instance, has been instrumental in the development of various Unix-like operating systems and networking software.

The following licenses represent diverse approaches to fostering open collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and creative works, each catering to different philosophies and goals within the broader spectrum of open source and open content movements:

GPL (GNU General Public License)

Developed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the GNU General Public License is renowned as one of the most prominent and influential copyleft licenses in the open-source software world. It is designed to safeguard and advance the principles of free software. The GPL is characterized by its stringent copyleft provisions, which require that any derivative works or modifications of software licensed under it must also be distributed under the same terms. This means that the GPL ensures that not only the original software but also any improvements or changes made to it remain open and accessible to the community. The GPL embodies the core values of the free software movement, emphasizing user freedom, transparency, and collaborative development. It has played a pivotal role in fostering open-source ecosystems and has been instrumental in the development of numerous software projects, including the Linux kernel.

BSD License

The BSD license, in contrast to the GPL, is celebrated for its permissive and flexible nature. It allows developers to use, modify, and distribute code with relatively fewer restrictions compared to copyleft licenses. The BSD license permits the incorporation of BSD-licensed code into both open-source and proprietary projects, making it a versatile choice for developers. This permissiveness has been instrumental in the creation and evolution of various Unix-like operating systems, including FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD. The BSD license fosters innovation by granting developers the freedom to integrate BSD-licensed code into a wide range of projects while giving credit to the original authors.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses, although often associated with creative content like text, images, and music, are versatile tools that extend to various forms of digital content. These licenses provide a framework for creators to define the terms under which their work can be shared, reused, and remixed. While they are not traditional software licenses, Creative Commons licenses promote open sharing, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas. Creators can choose from a spectrum of licenses, each offering different levels of freedom and control over their work. By allowing creators to specify the permissions and conditions associated with their content, Creative Commons empowers individuals and organizations to balance openness with their desired level of protection, facilitating a diverse and collaborative digital ecosystem.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF)

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is at the forefront of the open source movement, dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of software users. Founded by Richard Stallman in 1985, the FSF has been instrumental in defining and defending the principles of free software.

The FSF and Licensing

The FSF is best known for creating the GNU General Public License (GPL), a key copyleft license that has played a significant role in building a vast ecosystem of free and open source software.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI)

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) complements the FSF by focusing on the practical aspects of open source software. Founded in 1998, OSI provides guidelines for evaluating and certifying licenses as open source. They maintain the Open Source Definition, a set of criteria that licenses must meet to be considered open source.

OSI's Role in Licensing

One of OSI's main roles is to review and approve licenses to ensure they meet the Open Source Definition's criteria. This process guarantees that licenses promote transparency, collaboration, and freedom, which are essential principles of open source software.

Open Source Business Models

Open source isn't just about idealism; it's also a viable business model for many organizations. Understanding how to make money while contributing to open source is crucial in today's tech landscape.

Commercial Support and Services

Numerous companies offer commercial support and services for open source software. They provide training, consulting, and maintenance services to help businesses effectively use and maintain open source solutions.

Dual Licensing

Some open source projects use a dual licensing model. This means the software is available under an open source license, but it can also be licensed for commercial use with different terms, including proprietary ones.

Subscription Models

Many open source companies offer subscription-based models. Users pay for access to premium features, support, and updates while the core software remains open source. Subscriptions provide added value and peace of mind.

Donations and Crowdfunding

Open source projects often rely on donations and crowdfunding to sustain development. Platforms like Patreon, Kickstarter, and Open Collective enable individuals and organizations to financially support their favorite open source projects.

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