Misuse of terms :Open source and Free Source


January 10, 2011Social Media5 Comments

This is a  guest post by Karthik Arvind who is a Software Engineer by profession and passionate about open source.The two terms open source and free source are used interchangeable by many. But there is difference between these two. Richard M.Stallman is known to have asked journalists to know the difference between the two before interviewing him. He has many times mentioned not to misuse the term Free Software.

Free source:

“Free” in this does not have anything to do with cost.”Free like Free in freedom”.It is a movement started by Richard M.Stallman. When working in MIT lab he had written a program to help users spread across different rooms to know status of a printer. But after 1970’s most companies started to make their code proprietary. Xerox made their printer access closed. Stallman was not able to implement what he did in older printers. This led to the beginning of the movement “Software Freedom”.
Free software enthusiasts want all code to be freely available. Again, not free of cost, free for developers to work and modify on their own. Stallman also requests everyone to call GNU+Linux instead of just Linux.

Open source:

Open source is giving out the code openly. That is one can see the source code of a software. You are allowed to read it and understand how it works. Your limit stops with that. But there are restrictions on using the code and when you want to implement some changes, it has to be submitted to a panel and if it gets approves the change is on new versions. For Example, Linux kernel, you can read its code but when a change is to be made to it, it has to approved. Still Linus Torvalds holds his right to approve what changes are to be made to kernel.

Open source organizations have rights to sue when their code is reused without their permission. There are some famous cases by open source organizations. One very well known case is against Cisco by Free Software Foundation (FSF).Another most recent famous conflict is going on between Google and Oracle. Sun Microsystems holds rights on Java ME code which is used by Google in its Android OS but did not pay anything to Sun. When Oracle took over Sun they are gearing up to take on Google.

Basically , Open source lets one to view the code but there are restrictions on using the code. Free software movement wants rights for everyone to use the code freely without any restriction.

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5 Responses to “Misuse of terms :Open source and Free Source”
  1. surya

    nice post from a valuable sw engr..I know about author…In college days he was more prolific & broad minded….

    am also a fan for open source software.Pls check this Open source mobile OS http://gsuryalss.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/maemo-introduction/

  2. surya

    i read about GNU GPL->general public license is a project for free linux distribution by FSF.. As u told stallman request everyone to call linux as GNU linux instead of linux.. my query: what is GNU? its just name or it specifies some other thing also the correct GNU acronym..

  3. Jeyaganesh

    GNU is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix!”, chosen because GNU’s design is Unix-like, but differs from Unix by being free software and containing no Unix code

  4. Karthik

    @Surya :
    OS is build from a collection of applications , GNU has contributed many and it is used along with kernel developed by Linus which is called Linux kernel to form the complete OS.But its sad that everyone uses the term Linux and the contribution from GNU is hidden.So RMS keeps on stressing to use GNU Linux.
    And as far as acronym GNU , Im not sure about it , but what I have read is that Richard Stallman chose the name by using various plays on words, including the song The Gnu.
    I will let you know when I know more on this.

  5. surya

    @karthik&Jeya: Thank u

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