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

Tim Bowden bowden at iinet.net.au
Wed Aug 6 11:53:02 UTC 2003

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

To most people free software is IE (but you can download it for 
nothing!) and WinZip.  Back to the old problem of what free means...

>>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.

Same as my experience.  At least they may have seen 'Linux' mentioned on 
the cover of a mag or in the business/ tech print media.  Most (non 
developer) people who use only 'black box' software don't even realise 
there is source code.  Once that hurdle is overcome (sort of) then try 
explaining what it means to have 'open source' rather than closed 
source.  Then watch their eyes glaze over.  There are usually too many 
mental barriers to jump in one go...  But why give away the source when 
you can sell it? Doesn't that make it insecure? You only get what you 
pay for... Does it come from MS? So how does it get paid for? Who owns 
it? and so on.

> 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".
> Greg
> --
> See complete headers for address and phone numbers

The man-in-the-street's mindset is too deeply entrenched in a closed 
'black box' software culture to get the idea of open source/ free 
software without prolonged exposure to the ideas and software.  Even 
then, you have to overcome the care factor.  At some point the consumer 
stops caring about the details and trusts the vendor to do the right 
thing.  Most consumers will only 'get it' and understand a catch word 
when they are using foss by default, not choice.

Tim Bowden

More information about the linux-aus mailing list