Open Source Software in the Visual Medium: a Case Study

FOSS/FLOSS or Free/libre and Open-Source Software is liberally licensed software that grants users the right to use, study, change, and improve its design through availability of its source code. This approach has gained momentum and acceptance since it’s potential benefits are being increasingly recognized by both individuals and corporations world over. In the context of free and open-source software, free refers to the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than merely the price you pay for the software. The Free Software Foundation is an organization that advocates the free software model while suggesting that, to understand the concept, you should “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer”.

FOSS is an inclusive term that covers both free software and open source software, which despite describing similar development models, have differing ideologies – Free software focuses on the philosophical freedoms it gives to users, whereas Open Source Software focuses on the perceived strengths of its peer-to-peer development model. FOSS is a term that can be used without particular bias towards either political approach.

The Free Software Definition

The Free Software Definition, written by Richard Stallman and published by Free Software Foundation (FSF), defines free software as a matter of liberty, not price. The term ‘free’ is used in the sense of ‘free speech’ not of ‘free beer’. The earliest known publication of the definition was in February 1986. The canonical source for the document can be found in the philosophy section of the GNU Project website where it is published in multiple languages. The definition published by FSF in February 1986 had only two points:

The word “free” in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you.

The modern definition however has four points, which it numbers zero to three in compliance with zero-based numbering common to computer systems. It defines free software by whether or not the recipient has the following four freedoms:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Note that Freedoms 1 and 3 require source code to be available because studying and modifying software without its source code is highly impractical.

The Open Source Definition

The Open Source Definition is a document published by the Open Source Initiative, to determine whether or not a software license can be labeled with the open-source certification mark. The definition was based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines, written and adapted primarily by Bruce Perens. Despite the fundamental philosophical differences between the Free Software movement and the Open Source movement, the official definitions of free software by the Free Software Foundation and of open source software by the Open Source Initiative basically refer to the same software licenses, with a few minor exceptions. While stressing the philosophical differences, the Free Software Foundation comments:

The term “open source” software is used by some people to mean more or less the same category as free software. It is not exactly the same class of software: they accept some licenses that we consider too restrictive, and there are free software licenses they have not accepted. However, the differences in extension of the category are small: nearly all free software is open source, and nearly all open source software is free.

— Free Software Foundation

Graphics Hardware Support

One thing that has plagued Graphic Artists and Designers who want to use FOSS has been the lack of support for high-end graphics hardware. Not the case anymore as Free and open source software (FOSS) can now be used with a variety of graphics hardware, largely via the X.Org project. There are varying levels of support, ranging from completely working drivers to unsupported hardware. Some manufacturers do not provide open source drivers or technical documentation suitable for independent developers to write accelerated 3D device drivers. Support for their own products from companies can be limited as they only provide binary drivers or withhold documentation leaving developers of open source drivers to reverse engineer their products or not support them at all. In the case of binary drivers there are also objections due to free software philosophy, software quality and security concerns. A widely known source for performance information is the site which collects 3D performance information.

Case Study: In Divine Interest

In Divine Interest is an animated film created entirely by the use of FOSS. Despite the open-source software movement in India being in its infancy, the Roaming Design studio has shown what can be done in the industry of visual communication using free and open source software. Roaming Design is a multi-disciplinary entity that works across various areas of visual communication, moving seamlessly between and often combining animation, video, print, web and much more. It is also active in the area of design education. Headed by Pradeep Patil, the studio embarked on the process of creating an animated film entirely using Free and Open Source Software. They used the following tools to make this possible:


Ubuntu is a computer operating system distributed as free and open source software. It is named after the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu (“humanity towards others”). Ubuntu holds an estimated global usage of more than 20 million users, making it the most popular desktop Linux distribution. It is fourth most popular on web servers, and its popularity is increasing rapidly. The Ubuntu project is entirely committed to the principles of free software development; people are encouraged to use free software, improve it, and pass it on. Ubuntu is a fork of the Debian project’s codebase. The original aim of the Ubuntu team was to create an easy-to-use Linux desktop with new releases scheduled on a predictable six-month basis, resulting in a more frequently updated system.Installation of Ubuntu is generally performed with the Live CD or can be installed via a Live USB drive. Users can download a disk image (.iso) of the CD, which can then either be written to a physical medium (CD or DVD), or optionally run directly from a hard drive. A Microsoft Windows migration tool, called Migration Assistant can be used to import bookmarks, desktop background, and various settings from an existing MS Windows installation into a new Ubuntu installation. Wubi, which is included as an option on the Live CD, allows Ubuntu to be installed and run from within a virtual Windows loop device. This method requires no partitioning of a Windows user’s hard drive. Wubi also makes use of the Migration Assistant to import users’ settings.


Blender is a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software product used for creating animated films, visual effects, interactive 3D applications or video games. Blender’s features include 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, animating, rendering, video editing and compositing. Blender was primarily authored by Ton Roosendaal who announced that when enough donations had been collected, the Blender source code would be released. Today, Blender is free, open-source software and is, apart from the two half-time employees and the two full-time employees of the Blender Institute, is developed by the community. Blender has a relatively small installation size and runs on several popular computing platforms. Official versions of the software are released for Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, and FreeBSD. Though it is often distributed without extensive example scenes found in some other programs, the software contains features that are characteristic of high-end 3D software.


Inkscape is an Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.) and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more. Inkscape maintains a thriving user and developer community by using open, community-oriented development.


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free software high-end graphics application for the editing and creation of original images, icons, graphical elements of web pages and art for user interface elements. It is primarily employed as an image retouching and editing tool and is freely available for Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Linux. In addition to detailed image retouching and free-form drawing, GIMP can accomplish essential image editing tasks such as resizing, editing, and cropping photos, photomontages combining multiple images, and converting between different image formats. GIMP can also be used to create animated images in many formats such as GIF and MPEG through the Animation Plugin.

What are you waiting for? Get started on FOSS by employing any or all of the above mentioned tools and share your experiences with us and the community at large. We would love to hear about your experiences with these tools and the application of the philosophy of FOSS.

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Ritesh Reddy

Dr. Ritesh Reddy, PhD aka Reddy2Go is a Creative Generalist, who uses the magic of the written word and the allure of the visual medium in conjunction with bleeding edge technology to creating communication collateral for the New Media. He believes in the power of the individual & inspires independence through the Freelance Firestarter. In the spirit of selflessly sharing knowledge with the community for the betterment of society, he does not charge any fee for the same.