Free and Open Source Software

Explanation: Linux

Closed Source Software

First it is important to understand the traditional software model, namely Proprietary (or Closed Source), which is with what most people are familiar. In this case, no one outside the program’s company sees the software’s source code. This is important because the source code is a program’s secret recipe; you might know what a program does by using it, by you do not know exactly how it works without reading the source code. Therefore, viewing the source code for a piece of software reveals everything about it, from inner workings to bugs to security. This would also allow anyone viewing the source code to make an exact duplicate of the program and distribute it themselves. Thus, most companies follow the doctrine of never allowing anyone outside the company to see the source code (Closed Source). This mostly guarantees that no one else will be able to duplicate their software exactly. This is commonly furhter enforced by requiring licenses or software keys to activate the software.

Open Source Software

Although the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) model has been around for a long time, it has only recently gained public focus with programs such as Linux, Firefox, and Android. As you have likely guessed by now, the main feature of Open Source Software is that anyone can read the source code. In many cases, anyone can submit changes or additions to the source code as well. Wikipedia basically operates on the FOSS model.

Advantages of FOSS

Although there are a few disadvantages with FOSS (namely the difficulty inherent in monetization and some lack of support or accountability) many people feel the advantages significantly outweigh the disadvantages. In my eyes there are three main advantages of the FOSS model.

Full Transparency

Because everyone can view the source code, the programmers who wrote it cannot do anything sneaky. For example, you have no way of knowing whether or not Windows is sending your credit card information to Microsoft without your knowledge, because you cannot view the source code. On the other hand, you can be certain that Firefox is not doing that for the same reason. If you want to, you can confirm this by reading through all the firefox source code here.


The second advantage occurs because the only people who test and develop Closed Source software are those within the company, probably a few dozen to a hundred people depending on the program. Conversely, potentially thousands or millions of people can review the source code of FOSS, find bugs, and fix security vulnerabilities. This is not applicable in all cases, but for popular software such as Firefox those numbers are not unrealistic. Therefore, FOSS actually tends to be just as, if not more, secure than Closed Source Software. Although this may be counter-intuitive, just do a quick Google search or ask a computer-savvy friend which is more secure: Firefox or Internet Explorer? Linux or Windows?

Full Disclosure

The final advantage of FOSS is that it promotes full disclosure from companies, or letting users of the program know when a problem has been found or their account has been hacked. Although this is not inherent to the FOSS model, it is highly encouraged by the fact that if the company does not announce the vulnerability, someone else will probably find it and call them on it. On the other hand, Closed Source is under no such scrutiny, and so companies often never reveal to customers when private information has been compromised.


Although the FOSS model might not be as easily monetized as the Closed Source model, there are still companies making a profit using it. For example, the web browser Firefox maintained by the Mozilla, the operating system Ubuntu maintained by Canonical, and the Mobile operating system Android maintained by Google. Looking forward, I really think that FOSS is the way to go to benefit the end user and the security of the Internet as a whole.