DRAFT FAQ: Free vs. Open

B Galliart bgallia at gmail.com
Fri Jan 11 02:26:53 UTC 2008

Here is my attempt to fix some of the items I considered to be
technically incorrect or bias (take it for whatever 1.414 cents it
might be worth):

Q: What is the difference between "free software" and "open source"?

In this context "free" always means "libre" [1] (as in free speech)
rather than "gratis" [2] (as in free beer).  On the other hand, "open"
can be considered a more flexible term.

Strictly speaking, the term free software [3] is traditionally used by
the Free Software Foundation [4] to refer to software whose license
conforms to their list of four freedoms [5], as opposed "open source"
licenses which conform to the Open Source Definition [6].  Both appear
to have similar goals but it is the FSF position that they still
convey different ideas [7].  Some licenses qualify as Open Source but
not Free Software (such as the Artistic License 1.0, NASA Open Source
Agreement and Reciprocal Public License).  At the same time, the FSF
also promotes the concept of Copyleft [8] which not all Free Software
licenses qualify as.

In practice, most of the popular open source licenses in common use
also qualify as free software licenses, and vice versa.  As such, many
individuals choose to use the terms interchangeably -- or conjoined,
as in the somewhat awkward phrase Free/Libre/Open Source Software (
FLOSS) [9].

Philosophically, the terms "free software" and "copyleft" are often
associated with an ideological position [10] on how software should be
made  available, whereas "open source" more commonly reflects a
pragmatic concern [11] regarding how software should be developed.
However, this distinction may or may not matter to a particular
speaker or audience.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_Libre#Libre
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_Libre#Gratis
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software
[4] http://www.fsf.org/
[5] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
[6] http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd/
[7] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html
[8] http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copyleft.html
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_terms_for_free_software
[10] http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html
[11] http://catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

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