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37
format, since anyone else is free
to create their own programs for
reading and editing the encoded
files that Open Office creates.
Concerns may still exist about
reading existing documents that
have been created using propri-
etary closed-source software, or
attachments from colleagues that
are in such a format. Open Office
has been designed with this in
mind too, and as far as possible
seeks to ensure compatibility
with all existing Microsoft for-
mats.While Open Office does not cur-
rently come equipped with an application
commensurate to Microsoft's Access, the
database requirements of this fictional
institution can be just as easily met using
another highly regarded OSS/FS applica-
tion that is becoming increasingly widely
used in a variety of fields. MySQL (avail-
able for free download from:
http://www.mysql.com) is a fully featured
relational database package that can inte-
grate within Open Office to offer a con-
venient free alternative to commercial
database applications. Around 4 million
installations worldwide and a user base
including Motorola, NASA and Yahoo!
emphasise its pedigree.
T
he museum's Website can also be
served very successfully using
OSS/FS tools.The Linux operating sys-
tem, often regarded as the most important
development in the history of OSS/FS
software, is particularly well suited to serv-
ing digital materials, with its basis in the
Unix operating system. It is becoming
increasingly highly regarded as a platform
for desktop productivity, and it is generally
regarded that, in terms of quality and relia-
bility, Linux has already won the `server
war' and proved itself the best choice for
such a role. It is also widely acknowledged
that the best Web server available is Apache
(http://www.apache.org), another open
source technology.
Adobe's Indesign software. Images for
publication on the Website and in the
newsletter are formatted, cropped and
resized using Jasc's Paint Shop Pro.
T
his software configuration offers a
great deal in terms of convenience;
each application offers powerful function-
ality and is no doubt familiar. However,
each application listed above could be
replaced by an equivalent Open Source
alternative. As well as offering comparable
levels of functionality, OSS/FS (open
source or free) software removes the
restrictions that often accompany the use
of proprietary formats.The technical speci-
fications of these formats are invariably
closely guarded secrets and are frequently
specific to particular applications and ven-
dors. In addition, any decisions regarding
the future development and direction of
these formats and applications are com-
pletely at the manufacturer's discretion.
Some users may find themselves bound to
regular expensive upgrading whenever the
formats in use require it.
A
n OSS/FS alternative to commercial
`office' packages is Open Office
(http://www.openoffice.org), a compre-
hensive and functionally complete suite of
tools for a variety of office productivity
tasks. Because its source code is freely
available, there is no danger of users
becoming prisoners of their chosen file
gram and release the amended version to
the public so that the whole community
benefits. In addition, FSF explicitly incor-
porates a concept that has become known
as `copyleft'. In stark contrast with copy-
right laws this is intended to preserve the
wide outreach potential of free software,
and prevents those redistributing free soft-
ware from adding restrictions to deny other
people of any of the central freedoms.
Many open source licences stop short of
requiring the copyleft requirement but it
offers a number of advantages, ensuring
that with each reworking of a particular
software tool it is not necessary to `reinvent
the wheel'.The obvious winner under such
a system is the consumer, as overall func-
tionality is prioritised ahead of corporate
practices and intellectual property issues.
T
he most popular qualifying licence
for both open source and free soft-
ware is the GNU General Public Licence
(GPL).The most obvious example of a
software product that is subject to the GPL
is the GNU/Linux Operating System.
6
The GPL is just one of several different
licences that meet the criteria of the OSI,
which each correspond to and satisfy the
requirements of open source.
A
useful consideration at this point is
of the variety of open source soft-
ware solutions that offer commensurate or
improved functionality over proprietary,
non OSS/FS products. Consider a fiction-
al small museum whose IT requirements
are all met using closed-source propri-
etary software. For example, administrative
tasks such as word-processing, accounting
information and maintaining a mailing list
and database of exhibits are facilitated
with the use of Microsoft's Office suite of
software. The museum has a simple
Website, which is hosted internally, served
on a Microsoft Windows machine with
the built-in proprietary Internet
Information Server (IIS) software. The
museum's newsletter is published using
Screenshot of Open Office software
6 The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete Unix-like operating system which is free software: the
GNU system (GNU is a recursive acronym for `GNUs Not Unix').Variants of the GNU operating system, which use
the kernel Linux, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as `Linux', they are more accurately
called GNU/Linux systems.