Metaphors of Free Software

Hugo Roy hugo at
Tue Sep 23 13:59:46 UTC 2014


Metaphors when done right can be powerful to convey an idea.
There’s a short article with some good metaphors:

        Transparency: a car. 

        An open source license is like having the right to lift your car
        bonnet to view the engine. If you use software but can’t see what
        it’s doing behind the scenes, then it’s impossible to know what
        it’s doing with your data or even if it’s secure. By making code
        viewable by all, it’s much easier to spot and fix security flaws
        and bugs, which is why many security standards, such as password
        encryption, are open source.


        Modification: a house

        Open source is like buying a house and being free to decorate it
        however you want, to build extensions or demolish walls.
        Closed-source software strictly limits what you can do with it.


        Accumulative: DNA: 

        Like a genome that keeps evolving, or the way academia builds upon
        prior knowledge, open source is a way of ‘standing on the shoulder
        of giants’, by building on what exists, rather than starting from
        scratch. This applies to everything from the code at the heart of
        software and powering websites to design elements, which can
        develop in an accumulative way, with anyone free to improve on the
        work of those previously.

        Collaborative: a coop 

        Like a co-op, but without membership. While code authors may still
        own copyright on their code, by providing an open license, assets
        are kept public and the user community can offer improvements,
        fixes, language translations, design improvements, documentation
        and so on. Eric S Raymond describes open source development as “a
        great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches out of
        which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by
        a succession of miracles”.


        Democratic: a landslide 

        Like a democracy where anyone can set up their own country if they
        don’t like the leader. Open source projects have core maintainers
        who have the final say over suggestions and contributions from the
        user community but if they aren’t responsive, people can ‘fork’
        the software and build their own ‘branch’. The content management
        system Joomla, for instance, was forked from Mambo, after its
        corporate owners started charging developers big fees.


I suppose we’re missing the analogy between a cooking recipe and
source code for the list to be complete :-) 

Hugo Roy, Free Software Foundation Europe, <>  
Deputy Coordinator, FSFE Legal Team, <>  
Coordinator, FSFE French Team, <>  
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