Commentary: Open vs Free?

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Revision as of 12:41, 3 September 2008 by Edlefma (talk | contribs)
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What distinguishes "Open Source" from "Free Software"? Is either a subset of the other?


  • Open Source Definition This is the definition of Open Source provided by the Open Source Initiative, an organization founded by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond among others. Both Bruce and Eric have chapters in Open Sources and were largely responsible for naming and pushing of the term "Open Source".
  • The Free Software Definition The definition of Free Software provided by the Free Software Foundation, which is the organization behind the GNU project and the GPL family of software licenses. It was founded by Richard Stallman (RMS) who has a chapter in Open Sources and is the progenitor of the term Free Software and the Free Software movement.
  • Debian Social Contract The Debian Social Contract is a "a set of commitments that [The Debian Project] agree[s] to abide by." The Debian project is a GNU/Linux distribution that is one of most widely used and serves as the bases of other distributions such as Ubuntu and Linspire. The Debian Social Contract was written by Bruce Perens while he was the head of the project and was later adapted by Bruce and others to form the Open Source Definition.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar This is an essay written by Eric Raymond (ESR) that compares the traditional "Cathedral" style of project management used in commercial software to "Bazaar" style projects that use Free Software and encourage people to participate in development. In it ESR argues for the Bazaar approach as the more effective method.
  • It's Time to Talk About Free Software Again Email from Bruce Perens to the debian-devel mailing list renouncing open source and OSI in favor of Free Software

The following is a somewhat long winded jumble of thoughts.

I think that while both advocate access to source code and the right to alter and redistribute that source code they approach it from very different directions and as a result differ in they're exact implimentations of those ideas.

Free Software is about the moral stance that software should be "free". Proponents believe that Free Software is better for society. It's goal is to provide rights to the end user irregardless of the cost to the developer. Simply by looking at the definition you can see that it's defined completely as rights of end users but doesn't discuss at all methods for providing those rights. It also doesn't give any reasons as to why a purely selfish developer should want to create Free Software.

On the other hand it seems to me that Open Source is more of a project management model that argues that providing some of the freedoms described by Free Software is actually beneficial to the developer. It seems to derive from ideas like those expressed in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" that Free Software can actually be an effective way to run a project. I think it's no coincidence that the Open Source Definition is derived almost entirely from the Debian Social Contract which is a set of guidelines for the management of the Debian project.

While I would say that in general the rights provided by an Open Source license are probably a subset of the rights provided by Free Software I'm not sure it's strict. For example Open Source requires that the license allow distribution of derived works under the same terms as the original work but Free Software seem to allow additional restrictions to redistribution as long as they don't interfere with the four freedoms.

Edlefma 20:59, 1 Sep 2008 (EST)

Added link descriptions --Edlefma 12:31, 2 Sep 2008 (EST)

Added Bruce Perens email --Edlefma 12:41, 3 Sep 2008 (EST)

Good thoughts. So where does the Debian Social Contract fall in the spectrum between Free and Open? (What does the contract, itself, say?)

Also, it will be helpful if you all will add a brief explanatory comment for each of your references saying what it is and why you think it is relevant. I'm not looking so much to have the discussion here (although feel free to comment as Matt has, or just to ask more questions) as I am looking to marshal resources that we will need to inform our discussion on Wed. --Jrogers 06:42, 2 Sep 2008 (EST)

"Open Source" and "Free Software" are fundamentally the same idea because both are in order to share source code with people. When the idea of Free Software came out, it was not recognized to be useful for business. The idea of sharing software should have been some kind of business tool. Therefore, open source was born as a method of developing software and industry. Open source is a subset of free software because of this historical reason.

--Mikio. 11:15, 3 Sept 2008.