Free vs. Open Re: OSI enforcement?

Rick Moen rick at
Wed Jan 9 04:20:22 UTC 2008

Quoting Ernest Prabhakar (ernest.prabhakar at

> Since this does seem to be a frequently-asked-question, I would  
> encourage the various participants in this thread to focus on  
> providing an answer to the FAQ:
> "What is the difference between 'open source' and 'free software'?"

1.  Nice can of worms you have there.  Good luck chasing them down.

2.  If "free software" is identified by application of the Debian Free
Software Guidelines (DFSG)[1] as a yardstick to the facts of real-world
situations and licences, then the two criteria (open source and free
software) apply in practice nearly identically (, since the only
substantive difference between DFSG and OSD is OSD provision #10
(technological neutrality), which in real-world situations has proven to
be almost never decisive.

If "free software" is identified by application of FSF's Four Freedoms
essay, then there may be various hazy differences in edge cases between
open source and free software, depending on who's interpreting the Four
Freedoms essay, which remains a bit abstract as a yardstick for
real-world situations and licences.  However, even at that, FSF's
pronouncements on freeness per the Four Freedoms criteria (to pick the
institution most often consulted on that matter) have in pratice been 
nearly identical to OSI's judgements about OSD compliance.

For those of us who think that what really matters in the long term 
is code and licensing, licensing and code, the comparison stops there.  
Others perform polemico-mancy on commonly heard rhetoric, and pronounce
their interpretations of same to be of great importance.

(And yes, that's a long-winded ways of saying "It depends on whom you

> Hopefully we can come up with something Neutral-Point-Of-View that  
> would help outsiders better understand the distinction.  

It is to be hoped that you're less the wild-eyed optimist than I think
you are.  ;->

[1] If, on the other hand, DFSG-freeness is determined by looking up the
archived opinions of the most frantically voluble posters to the
public debian-legal mailing list, then all bets are off.

More information about the License-discuss mailing list