Free software and open source philosophies differ sometimes with radically different outcomes

J.B. Nicholson jbn at
Fri Nov 17 00:13:17 UTC 2017

Stefan Umit Uygur wrote:
> Personally, knowing and being involved closely to the development/history
> of both Free and Open Source Software during the past 20yrs I think there
> is no point of trying to compare the 2 entities or distinguish one from
> another.

There isn't just one point, there are multiple points to making this 
distinction. I find the distinction very helpful to understand why certain 
organizations make the choices they do.

> I rather see them one depending on another, meaning without Free
> Software I doubt that the Open Source Software would have existed but
> not vice versa and that clears almost everything.
That is self-contradictory but begins to get into why the open source 
development methodology and philosophy exists. In short, open source is (as 
Stallman has pointed out) a right-wing reactionary counter to the free 
software movement. The free software social movement existed for over a 
decade before open source came along. Open source enthusiasts continue to 
try to talk about the practical benefits of free software to business 
without talking about the software freedom or the ethical underpinnings of 
the social movement.

> Also making a comparison in terms of value I don't see it as a correct 
> approach, again referring to the relationship between the 2 that I have 
> just mentioned above. I'd mostly describe Free Software as a theorem
> and the Open Source is the module that puts into application that
> theorem.
I don't understand what this means.

> I know that the term Open Source is more popular these days simply
> because the term Free Software gets people into a confusion.
Open source gets more popular press because the computing-related media is 
overwhelmingly corporate and desires gratis labor. Open source philosophy 
never pushes any listener to think ethically or consider the ramifications 
of something beyond a narrowminded developmental philosophy. In fact, as 
has been known for years, open source advocates dispense with their 
developmental philosophy if it gets in the way of placating a proprietary 
software business. This is why has a 
section called "Different Values Can Lead to Similar Conclusions…but Not 
Always" which includes this text:

> [...] people from the free software movement and the open source camp
> often work together on practical projects such as software development.
> It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often
> motivate different people to participate in the same projects.
> Nonetheless, there are situations where these fundamentally different
> views lead to very different actions.
> The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and 
> redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But 
> this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not 
> necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program that is 
> powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users' 
> freedom. Free software activists and open source enthusiasts will react 
> very differently to that.
> A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the 
> ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to
> make the program work so well without using our development model, but
> you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that
> take away our freedom, leading to its loss.
> The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, 
> but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. I will get my 
> work done some other way, and support a project to develop a free 
> replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and
> defend it.
I encourage reading the GNU Project essays on this. They're far better 
written and draw important distinctions one needs to reach reasonable 

Stefan Umit Uygur continues:
> Not everyone is keen to study the history or dig into the terminology or
> the meaning of something like the term Free Software. As Italian, it is
> easier in my language for example because in Italian the 2 terms are
> completely separate, Freedom and Free vs Libero and Gratis. That
> helps/helped a lot in my case but as Matthias mentioned in his article
> it is not the same in many other languages and in particular in
> English.
I think this trouble is vastly overstated. It doesn't take much time in 
English to explain the difference in definitions of the word "free". 
Besides, gets 
into how people misunderstand the phrase "open source". In reality, it's 
unreasonable (but entirely business-friendly) to think that a handful of 
words will adequately convey any idea. Believing this is so is buying into 
the trap of concision (as explained in "Manufacturing Consent", Chomsky & 
Herman's famous book and the 1992 documentary based on that book.

> Either way, I find myself very comfortable to explain that the 2 are
> the exact same thing with addition of the reliance (or the existence
> should I say again) from one to another and I have no issues in using
> either of the terms.
Then you are likely teaching others something oversimplified and untrue. No 
wonder you find it easy to do: as the old saying goes[1], "A lie travels 
around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.".

- the free software movement started over a decade before open source.
- the free software movement is a social movement, open source is a 
developmental methodology.
- software freedom activists don't give into software non-freedom, open 
source advocates sometimes do and this alone shows how the two philosophies 
have radically different outcomes (thus are clearly not "the exact same 
- free software doesn't give business primacy but treat business users as 
equals, whereas open source philosophy was designed to speak to a business 
audience and frequently gives into whatever business representatives say 
they want. I think this is where the perverse attention to popularity comes 
from as well.

Instead of telling people what you've been telling them, I recommend 
pointing to the essays I've pointed to here. Stallman's book "Free as in 
Freedom" is also instructive (and also contains these essays). You can 
download a copy gratis, share it with anyone, or buy a printed copy from 
the FSF.


More information about the Discussion mailing list