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General Open Source information

There are several Free Open Source Operating Systems, the most well known of which are BSD and Linux. They are normally included as a part of a "distribution" together with a selection of Open Source software, either as a commercial distribution such as RedHat Linux (USA) or SUSE Linux (Germany), or free distributions such as Debian GNU-Linux (worldwide), Ubuntu (initially South Africa, now UK), and the three main distributions of BSD, (Free, Open, and Net). They are designed to run on a great variety of hardware types, in most of the human languages.
A distribution may offer a choice of desktop environments, each with its own graphical user interface (GUI) and default additional software, although the use of a desktop is optional, such as on a dedicated server.
The Open Source developers are aware of what others are doing, and any good idea can be re-used in any other system, all subject to the copyright provisions in force for each package. There is a huge amount of documentation, but the software is racing ahead. Most development is carried out by dedicated teams, who welcome comments, suggestions, and contributions. All are developing rapidly, and facilities which prove popular can soon appear in other distributions. Help is available, both from the enthusiastic community and the developers themselves, but users are expected to RTFM (read the ???friendly??? manual).

Each software package comes with a licence, but there are different definitions of "free";
"free" as in beer (you can drink it), manufacturers may supply free drivers for their hardware, but there is no possibility of updating if they abandon them, or there may be other restrictions on use. Usually classed as non-free or contributed by Debian.
"free" as in speech (it is up to you, do or say what you like) the original source code for software is available for examination, modification, improvements, updating, etc. Any problems can be reported direct to the developers, who welcome offers of help to improve the software and fix bugs. Check frequently for any available security upgrades or other improvements.

There may not be any warranty, so use at your own risk, although if you read the small print in the terms and conditions of expensive commercial software you may find they are virtually identical.

There is a list of well known software licenses with references at http://wiht.co/OS-licenses

Further information

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