The availability of the Free software and documentation provides an unmatched opportunity for individuals to learn, to leverage and to contribute to the community and the world.
Many companies that spend a significant percentage of their budgets on technology could operate utilizing free software and significantly reduce their operating costs.
The availability of source code provides an opportunity for individuals to learn and to utilize the technology for the benefit of themselves and others. The fact they have the right to use, copy, distribute, change and/or sell the software or service makes the opportunity virtually limitless.
What is Free Software
Free software is software that comes with permission for anyone to use, copy, and/or distribute, either verbatim or with modifications, either gratis or for a fee.
“Free software” does not mean “noncommercial”. A free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. Commercial development of free software is no longer unusual; such free commercial software is very important. You may have paid money to get copies of free software, or you may have obtained copies at no charge.
Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundatation is a non-profit organization that promotes the development of free software and documentation. Their mission is to defend the rights of all free software users. Their view is that software must be free to ensure society does not lose control over its computing.
As our society grows more dependent on computers, the software we run is of critical importance to securing the future of a free society. Free software is about having control over the technology we use in our homes, schools and businesses, where computers work for our individual and communal benefit, not for proprietary software companies or governments who might seek to restrict and monitor us.
Free software is defined by the offering of 4 basic freedoms:
The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0). The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2). The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
What is Open SourceThe open source movement was started in the late 90s, and originated as part of a marketing campaign for Free Software. It emphasize the technical and economical benefits of open source code and open development, and care little or nothing at all about the ethical aspects. However there is very little software acknowledged by the Open Source Initiative that is not also Free Software, hence the term FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is often used. Benefits of Free and Open Source Software These freedoms benefit users in many ways. Without access to the code and the right to modify it and distribute it a distribution like openSUSE would not be possible at all.
Fix the softwareThese freedoms mean that you can fix bugs, which exist in all software, or you can change the software to do what you need it to do, or even fix security issues. In the case of proprietary software you can ask the provider to add functionality and fix bugs, and maybe they'll do it when it suits them, maybe not.
ShareFree software enables you to share software and thus help your friends and neighbours without you having to breach licenses.
Know and control what is going onWith proprietary software you can't know what a given program _really_ does. Some very well known proprietary software has been caught spying on users and sending information about their behaviour and such. Proprietary software also has a tendency to include various digital restrictions on what the user can do, when, for how long, etc. With free software you have access to the source code and can study what the program does and change it if you don't like it.
Technical benefitsOpen source code makes it possible for more people to see the code and fix it, it can develop faster and become better. This system of "peer review" can be compared to the way scientific research works. In comparison proprietary code is kept secret and rarely seen by anybody outside the company behind it. Economic benefits It's also a way in which companies can share development costs. For example Novell and Red Hat are competitors yet they develop many of the same programs and thus help each other. IBM and HP could also be seen as competitors yet they both contribute to the Linux kernel, etc., thus sharing development costs. Free software makes a competitive market for support possible, potentially hightening the quality of support. With proprietary software only the provider who has access to the source code can realisticly offer decent support, and thus has a kind of monopoly.
I'm not a programmer, why should I care?
Most of these freedoms require you to be able to read and write code for you to take advantage of them directly. But even though you're not a hacker you'll benefit, from others taking advantage of these freedoms, or you can join together with others and pay a programmer to make changes that you'd like or need - or you can take advantage by using the openSUSE distribution.