[Linux-aus] Open source: time for a name change?

Dan Shearer dan at shearer.org
Wed Aug 6 11:11:02 UTC 2003

On Wed, Aug 06, 2003 at 12:24:42PM +0930, Greg 'groggy' Lehey wrote:
> On Wednesday,  6 August 2003 at 12:06:49 +0930, Dan Shearer wrote:
> > On Wed, Aug 06, 2003 at 11:45:53AM +0930, Greg 'groggy' Lehey wrote:
> >> Years ago, rms came out with a pretty obvious term, "free software".
> >> Despite everything, the name was misinterpreted (beer?  actions?).
> >> And the suits didn't like it because it smacked too much of
> >> counterculture.  So the term "open source" was invented, and it's
> >> doing quite well for itself.
> >>
> >> But if you can misinterpret the intentions of "free software", how
> >> much more can you misinterpret "open source"?  Go out in the street
> >> and ask passers-by what each means.  Those who have never heard of
> >> either will have a reasonable idea what free software is, but they
> >> wouldn't even associate "open source" with software until they're
> >> told.
> >
> > The only really solid term I've seen is "Linux". It seems to be readily
> > recognisable as a "free software thingy" and I've used Linux-style for
> > describing Apache on Solaris and FreeBSD to good effect. As long as
> > people understand the details hardly matter.
> If you want to understand the details, yes, the details matter.  Sure,
> you can use "Linux" as a sort of catchall, but there will be groups
> who don't want to be thought of as "Linux".  And it also fails the
> man-in-the-street test, though possibly not as badly as "open source".

That's my point: I haven't found anything that does a better job at the
man-in-the-street test than "Linux". Believe me, I've tried just about
everything I can think of. Blame the media, lack of education or
moonspots, as far as I can see it is the truth.

In Europe and Spanish-speaking parts of the US (which covers a lot of
the US!) the word "libre" works, but it doesn't conjure up a fully
functional software world in the way that the mass media has done with
the word "Linux".

Ah yes, there is one exception: a negative approach is often well
understood during man-in-the-street conversations. If someone looks
blank when you say "Unix", or "BSD", or "Linux" or "Open Source
Software" or "Software Libre" then you can simply say "Have you heard of
Microsoft Windows? Well, its a complete replacement for all that" and
usually get a good response.  But negative marketing is not a good
default position.

One other point: most BSD people are really pleased when I introduce
them to someone who is interested in trying out BSD, even if I've got
them along by saying "I know someone whose really good at this Linux
thing, and if you're looking for a replacement for your Windows NT
server you should just have a talk to him".

It's a bit silly for BSDs not wanting to be incorrectly called Linux
given that they have gigabytes of software in common. If someone has a
good experience with BSD they soon get the naming right. What's wrong
with a little forbearance with the ideology in favour of helping people
get what they want done?

Dan Shearer
dan at shearer.org

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