If you regularly follow our news, our employees’, or if you know about our products, then you know how Open Source matters to NBS System. However, this term has to be well defined: it is indeed often associated with “Free Software”.

If one can easily picture what a proprietary software, the definition is less obvious where Open Source or Free Softwares are concerned. These two terms are indeed used without any distinction in the media, but also by many people in the IT field. So what is really the difference between an open source and a free software?

Free Software, an ambiguous term?

Free Software Foundation logo

In 1985, Richard Stallman created the Free Software Foundation (FSF). This American non-profit organization aims at promoting Free Softwares and to defend Internet users. In order to be called “free”, a software has to guarantee four specific liberties to its user. The latter must thus be free to:

  • Execute the program, no matter how it is used
  • Study the program and modify it to adapt it to their needs
  • Distribute copies of the program, whether free or not
  • Improve the program and distribute the improved version

One might have thought that this was enough to refer to this part of the IT world revolving around sharing and the notion of community, but that was not the opinion of Christine Peterson, of the Foresight Institute. She pointed the fact that “free” can refer to both the level of “freedom” and the price of the software, which can cause misunderstandings. She proposes a new name, Open Source, to create a differentiation. Success was lukewarm: some proprietary softwares are sometimes put under the Open Source denomination just because their code can be looked up under conditions.

Open source Initiative logoIn 1998, the term Open Source becomes official with the creation of the Open Source Initiative by several members of the Free Software community. This organization defines rules that softwares have to follow in order to be considered as Open Source. Introducing, for instance, licence neutrality (no provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface), they are more specific and concrete than the rules of the Free Software Foundation. You can fin all of the rules on the Open Source Initiative website.

Open Source vs Free Software

Actually, the separation of these two names has little or no impact on the licences themselves. The main difference between the two organizations is what they fight for. On the one side, the Free Software Foundation emphasizes the political and philosophical dimension of the licences; on the other, the Open Source Initiative regulates in more details the development and propagation of the softwares. On Google Trends, one can see that the term “Free Software” is much more researched than “Open Source”1; however, that is probably due to the fact that Google does not differentiate between Free “open-source” Softwares and free “nothing-to-pay “softwares.

Partage de code

In both cases, everything is done so that each addition, each modification can benefit the whole community: anyone can collaborate, make their contribution, to improve the quality of the available tools and drive IT forward. It requires that the source code of these softwares be fully available, since it is the only way to deeply study the structure of a software, modify it and improve it. It is true for Open Source softwares, where code availability is directly written in the rules, but also for Free Softwares: here however, the code availability is only suggested.

Today, the acronym “FOSS” (Free Open Source Software) is more and more used to call these kinds of softwares, without any difference made between free or open. NBS System takes part in some of these projects. We will however keep using the words Open Source, which are the most used in our market, France.

Free Softwares & NBS System

Build picture

This dimension of sharing knowledge with a community was always part of the spirit of NBS System. The world is full of motivated and gifted people: without open or free licences, the latter could only produce tools by being recruited by an IT company, or by being a self-employed person for instance… A huge loss of competences in a sector already having trouble finding qualified profiles.

That is why NBS System uses several Open Source tools, whether internally (Salt, Icinga, OTRS…) or on our machine park (Apache, NGINX, Netfilter…). But that is not all: when one is part of the Open Source community, ones uses the softwares but also takes part in the evolution of the whole group. That is why NBS System’s experts contribute to many Open Source projects, whether they are used on our equipments or not.

As a company however, we have more resources than a sole person: thus, not only do we contribute, but we create new tools that you can find on NBS System’s Github page:

  • NAXSI logo vignetteNAXSI, a high-performance Web Application Firewall (WAF). This renowned NGINX module is widely used, with more than 1500 stars on Github. It comes with tools such as Nxapi, Nxtools or Spike, which make NAXSI easier to use.
  • PHP Malware Finder and MOWR, two tools enabling to detect malevolent files (PHP/ASP).
  • Mapster, a Kibana module allowing to see data live on a map.

Open Source and global evolution

For NBS System, Open Source and/or Free Softwares are the future of IT. It allows us to move forward as a group, without discriminations, and to benefit together from technological advances. Of course, it will not make us “equal before Internet”, but will bring technology and science forward thanks to collective work. An inspiration?

1 Source: Google Trends / comparison of “free software” and “open source” / Parameters : World, last 5 years, all categories, research on the Web

Lucie Saunois
Lucie Saunois
IT aficionado, specifically when it comes to cybersecurity, since she joined OT Group in 2015, Lucie specializes in making technical, and often complex, topics understandable by anyone.