FLOSS - history and concepts
Motto: If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. - Thomas Jefferson, 1813
During the last quarter of the 20th century, computers evolved from elite, complicated scientific machinery into household tools comparable to radio, TV and telephone. Likewise, software which used to be a black magic -like creation of brilliant academic minds turned into an everyday item - while its creation mostly remained a highly professional activity, its usage became easy enough to be handled by everyone. This in turn helped to create a market, and along with other factors, contributed towards software becoming a discrete product similar to a record or a book. During the almost three decades, a couple of generations of computer users grew up who took the commercialised nature of software for granted and were suspicious of 'freebies' (there ain't such thing as a free lunch). And many of those people are sincerely surprised to learn that commercialised software is a relatively new thing in the history of computing.
Yet there has always been another way of thinking - the one that stems from the historical principles of academic freedom and peer-review knowledge building. Just like science has always been based on building on previous knowledge, this kind of approach to software implies that it must be free to share, modify and build upon. While sometimes labelled idealistic and unbusinesslike, this has turned out to be not the case - as proved by IBM, Red Hat, Sun, HP, Dell and many other big players in information technology industry.
FLOSS (Free, Libre and Open-Source Software) is an umbrella acronym that tries to contain a number different understandings and aspects. The concept is rooted deep in computing history, dating back to the early hacker communities of MIT and Stanford, yet its current wide spread has only been possible due to the ubiquity of the Internet.
FLOSS as a term bridges two different schools of thought which are present in IT landscape.
There is another term which is often mistakenly related to FLOSS - "freeware". At first, it may seem to make sense - freeware has no cost, most of FLOSS has neither.
Peter Salus concludes the preface of his "The Daemon, the Gnu, and the Penguin" with the following assertion: "Over four centuries have passed since our static heliocentric universe was replaced by a dynamic one. Today, the business model that has persisted since the late eighteenth century is being replaced." While many people may argue with him, it is quite clear that FLOSS is not a passing fad and has already had thorough impact on software industry.