Free Software Vs Open Source

There is an ideological difference between the proponents of the terms "Free Software" and "Open Source".

The term FreeSoftware was introduced in the early 1980's by the movement we now know as the FreeSoftwareFoundation. RichardStallman and others wanted to avoid the potential MoralDilemma? of either denying his neighbour a copy (of software and/or source code), or breaking either copyright or NonDisclosureAgreement. To achive this goal he started the GnuProject, and a definition for FreeSoftware was crafted. Thus, the definition of FreeSoftware is focused on the freedom to share with your neighbor.

The term OpenSource was later introduced by another community including ESR, is more or less indifferent to moral issues concerning software sharing. The OpenSource movement argues that developing software using the "bazaar" philosophy (as described in TheCathedralAndTheBazaar) is superior. Hence the definition of OpenSource is focused on effective development using the bazaar model.

While both discuss software whose users are permitted certain freedoms with respect to the code, OpenSource tends to focus on providing an economic/business argument for FreeSoftware. FreeSoftware focuses on providing a moral/ethical argument for OpenSource. The distinction is between "using/providing FreeSoftware is a good, morally right, thing to do" and "using/providing OpenSource Software is beneficial to you and your business".

In most cases OpenSource software is also FreeSoftware, so the difference is mostly that the OpenSource community, probably in order to be more BusinessFriendly?, refuses to subscribe to the ethics of the FSF. The GnuProject's homepage has a page to track their opinion about different kind of software licenses:

Although technically the OpenSource proponents use the same definition as the FreeSoftware community, in practise, not all of the licences approved by OpenSource proponents meet with the approval of FreeSoftware advocates.

Parallel arguments can be made either that "democracy is a moral right" and "democracy is the most efficient known system". The two are complementary but not at all the same, and some people believe one or the other is more important.

Of course the same may be used for socialism, education, or anything else. The point is not to equate OpenSource with democracy, but to explain why RichardStallman says "open source gets the right conclusion for the wrong reason."

RichardStallman emphatically explains his view of the difference in this SlashDot interview. See In my opinion, Stallman is off-base by positing that all software should be free. That is similar to saying that no-one has the right to charge for software. (Expressed as customers should demand FreeSoftware.)

I remember Stallman saying that users should demand free software, which correctly emphasizes "using freely" instead of "acquiring for free". That is, everybody has the right to charge for software, but users should accept (and possibly buy) only software that is free for them to run, copy, study and modify.

Software should be free because it becomes a type of law. See CodeIsLaw.

EricRaymond's arguments make more sense, in that it is advantageous in many case to make software OpenSource, but does not claim that FreeSoftware is a right. Stallman goes on to say that we should be free to copy copyrighted works. It seems to me this denies the author his due. If an author produces a work, he should be free to charge for it. Those that see value, will buy. Likewise, anyone should be free to produce something and give it away. But to insist on some right to free software seems wrong to me.

Note that Stallman distinguishes between work of art and software. I don't think he ever claimed that books should be copyrighted like software.

Yes, I know RichardStallman is much smarter and more accomplished than I am, but I still think he is wrong to insist on FreeSoftware being a right.

Actually, RichardStallman is a raving lunatic. :-)

Maybe. In the world, there are reasonable and unreasonable people. The progress of society often depends upon the actions of the unreasonable ones. It wasn't so long ago that only "lunatics" thought it proper that women should vote, for example.

That is similar to saying that no-one has the right to charge for software.

Would you please stop propagating this FUD: it is not at all similar. I am sure that you know by now that free software has nothing to do with price. You can charge as much money for free software as you want (getting your named price is a different story). Now, granted, this represents a fundamental change in the market for software - but that is not the same as getting rid of the market for software. The 'you have to give your work away for free' statement is a bald-faced lie often promulgated by proprietary software mavens, and then repeated ad nauseam by both the clueless, and those that should know better. If you wish to discuss/attack the commercial models implied and supported by free software, by all means do so. But to pretend that these things do not exist is dishonest. RMS's argument is not that software should not cost anything, but that it should only be available under these (FreeSoftware) conditions. Intentionally misrepresenting this seems to be a favourite pastime of many anti-FSF people.

Related to comment above, see


the 'Free' is as in Free Speech not FreeAsInBeer.

No-one said you shouldn't make money, only that you should make the source available. RedHat and others are making a healthy profit selling "Free Software", and all power to them. If I have the choice to download the source for nothing and deal with the build/install/config headaches myself, or buy from some organization offering me tech support, manuals and a decent installer, I'll probably pay the money. But what RMS and ESR argue is the source should always be available for others to extend or modify.

-- AlanFrancis

Actually, ESR has said source should only be open as long as it makes business sense, but that it makes business sense a lot more than most businesses think it does.

Funny, we're having the same conversation at the same time on MeatballWiki.

Piracy perversely serves to continue the hegemony of proprietary software on the desktop. If people had to pay, it would be the push to switch to FreeSoftware.

RansomLove? of Caldera explains why following RichardStallman's religion isn't always good:

Actually, RansomLove? is a raving lunatic. :-)

OpenSource licenses do not restrict redistribution of identical or modified copies. FreeSoftware licenses place one restriction: that redistribution must be under a FreeSoftware license. This leads to an asymmetric incompatibility between FreeSoftware and OpenSource: while it is possible to use OpenSource code in FreeSoftware projects (e.g., for the LinuxOperatingSystem to copy drivers from FreeBsd), the inverse is not allowed.

One way of looking at this is that code can escape from an OpenSource license, but not from a FreeSoftware license. This has the effect of establishing a FreeSoftware world that is entirely separate from the ProprietarySoftware? world, with no possibility of code movement between the two; this leads to an UsVsThem? mentality, almost a revolutionary attitude, in committed believers in FreeSoftware. OpenSource adherents, on the other hand, are fairly happy to cosy up to companies, or to the FreeSoftware movement.

Actually, that's what CopyLeft does, non-CopyLeft free licenses like BSD Licenses or X11 License are still *free software licenses*. There are several licenses approved by OSI that do NOT qualify as free software licenses, but most of them are because they wanted USING the modified software must release all the source code, like RealNetworks license, Open Watcom license, etc. -- Whistler

ThreadMode comments moved from redundant node (refactor, anybody?):

RichardStallman leads the FreeSoftware movement. There are other people that lead an OpenSourceSoftware movement. The OpenSource people don't care about confusing the two; RMS, on the other hand, does care.

The key difference between those two is that the OpenSource people are pragmatists. They think that software should be OpenSource because that leads to the best software.

RMS and his people, on the other hand, don't care whether free software is better or not (well they do care, but it is a secondary issue). What they believe is that non-free software is morally wrong.

So, for the most part the effects are the same. Practically, however, the main difference is that OpenSource people think that closed software is OK, if not ideal, so if a XFree86 driver is closed source, that is OK, but the FreeSoftware people believe that these non-free software packages should be avoided if at all possible. Obviously, for the first few years working on a closed source OS was a necessity, but now the real diehards don't use non-free software at all.

My impression is that some OpenSource people have the same moral view as FreeSoftware people, but think pragmatic arguments (of the sort that the OpenSource movement offers) are a good way to convince software companies (notoriously pragmatic creatures that they are) to start making FreeSoftware.


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