FOSS is a Key Player In The Evolution of Technology

Note: This is another post for an assignment at Drexel. If you read the other two, you know the drill.

FOSS, Free and Open Source Software, is a concept that has fueled many technology innovations. There is a fairly good chance you’ve used a FOSS project without even realizing it. In fact, you’re doing so right now: this blog’s backend runs on FOSS. Unless your local library still uses a card catalog, the catalog might be a FOSS project (Drexel’s is not (but mine is)).

Which brings me to VuFind, a next-generation library catalog – or to use the correct term, OPAC – that is FOSS. It was developed by Villanova University and released in 2010. According to GitHub, it has 23 contributors and has seen eight releases (2.2 is the current). It appears to be an open-source – and free – competitor to Summon, a tool Drexel’s library uses. Both Summon and VuFind go beyond the traditional library OPAC to include results from digital resources (ie: ebooks). For example, here is a search for manga on VuFind at the University of Illinois, a search on Summon at Drexel, and a search on Koha (a FOSS traditional OPAC) on my library. If you followed those links, did you notice Drexel’s was the only that wasn’t self-hosted? While young, VuFind does look like it could be a good alternative to Summon. Summon does appear to offer more filtering options, but otherwise results in Summon and VuFind and presented similarly.

As much as I would love to continue talking about libraries and the systems they use, this assignment does require me to talk about one more FOSS project: Mifos. Mifos is a FOSS project for the microfinance industry, a subject which I honestly have no experience with. Unfortunately, Mifos’ demo was not responding at time of writing to play with the system. Mifos’ code repository also did not provide how many people were contributing to the project, but its activity stream, Twitter, and Google Groups page all came off as active. It was started by the Grameen Foundation, but is now managed by the open-source community instead. It appears to be thoroughly documented, both for users and for those who want to get involved with the development side.

So why does FOSS matter? As I previously mentioned, a good chunk of the internet runs on it, for one. A certain student organization I’m part of here at Drexel relies on Linux. Have a Playstation 3, 4, or Vita? Those all run forks of some form of BSD. OS X is significantly powered by UNIX… I hope you get the point. FOSS is highly unlikely to disappear any time soon. I think it’s reach is likely to expand considerably. After all,

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