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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is FOSS? Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is software whose source code may be modified and freely distributed to others. Popular examples include GNU/Linux, Mozilla, Apache, and Wikipedia. FOSS is distributed under a variety of different licenses. FOSS is often created through a global network of programmers, designers, and users. The development process is characterized by a bottom-up, distributed, merit-based, volunteer programmer culture.

Within the FOSS movement, there are two main communities that share some common principles but also have some important differences. The Free Software Foundation (FSF), started by Richard Stallman in the mid-1980s, believes in the freedom of users to run, study, and change software without restriction. The FSF is interested in promoting social solidarity through cooperation and sharing. The GNU General Public License (GPL), sometimes called copyleft, provides an alternative to copyright that formalizes FSF's definition of free software.

While sharing some of the same social goals as described in their official definition of open source, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has focused more on practical issues of software development and has developed licenses that place certain limits on the way software can be distributed and combined with other software. OSI has set up a standards body to maintain the Open Source Definition through the approval of various licenses. Many consider the OSI's definition of open source software to be more "business friendly" than FSF's. On the other hand, some proponents of the free software movement believe that certain OSI-approved licenses compromise some important social and community principles.

Although most of our projects use the GNU license, we are open to working with OSI-approved licenses and therefore place ourselves within the broader FOSS community--hence the use of that acronym in our name.

2. What is a humanitarian organization? In the way we use it, a humanitarian organization is any non-profit organization engaged in work that benefits society or humanity on a local, regional, national, or international scale.

3. What is The Humanitarian FOSS Project? The Humanitarian FOSS Project is a collaborative, community-building project that was started by a group of computing faculty and open source proponents at Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and Connecticut College. Currently the main development site for the project is The Humanitarian FOSS Project @ Trinity, but this is only temporary. Eventually we will have development sites @ Wesleyan, @ Connecticut College, @ Accenture, @ Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford, and at many other sites around the globe. (See our Projects Showcase.)

4. How is The Humanitarian FOSS Project funded? We (Co-PIs from Trinity, Wesleyan, and Connecticut College) are funded by collaborative National Science Foundation grants under its Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) program, offered through the Directorate for Computing & Information Science & Engineering (CISE). As its name suggests, the primary focus of CPATH is to revitalize undergraduate computing education.

5. How does this project purport to revitalize undergraduate computing education? We hope to help revitalize interest in undergraduate computing by getting students engaged in building H-FOSS, i..e., free and open source software that benefits the community. We believe that incorporating FOSS as a software development methodology is long overdue in undergraduate computing curricula. We also think that students will respond positively to learning about FOSS and to contributing their new found knowledge and skills in projects that benefit the community.

6. Who/what inspired the idea of incorporating H-FOSS into the undergraduate computer science curriculum? ACM President David Patterson voiced both the idea of getting involved in FOSS and the idea of using our computing skills to help our communities in his monthly CACM columns.

7. What are main goals of the project? We hope to grow a community interested in getting undergraduate computing students to build H-FOSS. Toward this end we are developing a portable and sustainable educational model that attracts socially engaged students to the computing discipline, bridges the divide between town and gown, and builds truly useful humanitarian software.

8. Will this project appeal to undergraduate students? We don't know yet. That's the question we are trying to answer. Community- and service-learning are very popular among undergraduate students. We hope to develop a variety of the Habitat for Humanity model for computing students. Instead of building houses, computing students, together with faculty and IT professionals, will build software systems that benefit humanity.

9. What opportunities are available for students? During the course of the two-year grant, we will offer a number of community-based academic-year and summer internships during which students will develop open source software to solve real problems.



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