DRAFT FAQ: Free vs. Open

Ernest Prabhakar ernest.prabhakar at gmail.com
Wed Jan 9 19:01:54 UTC 2008

Hi all,

On Jan 8, 2008, at 8:20 PM, Rick Moen wrote:
>> "What is the difference between 'open source' and 'free software'?"
> 1.  Nice can of worms you have there.  Good luck chasing them down.

Well, I've given it my best shot (below), incorporating the various  
points that have been raised.  Feedback? Suggestions?

Also, I strongly encourage people to focus their discussion on how to  
improve (or expand) the FAQ, rather than general philosophical  
discussions about "free vs. open".  The goal of the new license  
discuss is *convergence*, to ensure we generate more light than heat.

-- Ernie P.
L-D Moderator


It depends. Much of the time, the two phrases can be used  
interchangeably, but sometimes they indicate significantly different  

Strictly speaking, the term free software is traditionally used by the  
Free Software Foundation to refer to software whose license conforms  
to their list of four freedoms, as opposed "open source" licenses  
which conform to the Open Source Definition. In practice, however,  
virtually all open source licenses also qualify as free software  
licenses, and vice versa, so many individuals use the terms  
interchangeably -- or conjoined, as in the somewhat awkward phrase  
Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS).

Philosophically, the term "free software" is often associated with an  
ideological position on how software should be available, whereas  
"open source" more commonly reflects a pragmatic concern regarding how  
software should be developed. However, this may or may not matter to a  
particular speaker, so be cautious about reading too much into the  

Note that in this context "free" always means "libre" (as in free  
speech) rather than "gratis" (as in free beer).

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