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

Dan Shearer dan at shearer.org
Thu Aug 7 13:43:02 UTC 2003

On Thu, Aug 07, 2003 at 11:34:10AM +0930, Greg 'groggy' Lehey wrote:
> On Wednesday,  6 August 2003 at 16:09:17 +0930, Dan Shearer wrote:
> > On Wed, Aug 06, 2003 at 03:14:15PM +1000, John Knight wrote:
> >> Layman's terms, what about 'Open Software'? Only a
> >> slight change, but it might desribe it better.
> >
> > Until a person reaches that point, what better word do we currently
> > have than "Linux" or "Linux-style" to describe Open Source, from
> > OpenBSD through to Cygwin? Greg, you started this thread -- can you
> > improve on this?
> Well, my argument was for a descriptive term.  "Free software" fits
> that bill.  "Linux" (or "BSD", for that matter, before you accuse me
> of being partisan :-) don't.

I was't going to accuse you of being partisan :-) Linux comes nowhere
near being an accurate term. But it is becoming widely understood to
vaguely stand for free software.

Naturally, I don't go around calling things Linux that clearly aren't.
But in the context of your question, the man-on-the-street, I don't know
of any term they're more likely to understand at the moment. To go on
trying things like "Free software" and "Open source software" when
people seem to be turning off them borders on ideology. Underinformed
people want to call this sort of thing Linux.  What can a few tens of
thousands experts who know that's incorrect do? Maybe there's more
important things to worry about.

Most security people don't bother trying to correct the press about the
word "hacker" any more. 

I've never heard a physicist correcting public speakers about the term
"quantum leap", which is usually used in a sense that means the opposite
of what it really is.

Perhaps its about time entries were submitted to the online computer
dictionaries around to give some more meanings to the word "Linux",
along the lines of "Common name many non-technical apply to any free
open source software".  Might cause a problem for those who have to
defend the trademark, but if its popular useage then it belongs in a

> Alone we can't, of course.  But the term "free software" used to be
> mainstream, and somebody changed that perception.

Trying to do this again sounds a bit like quixotic. The "Open Source"
movement has done that once, and it was a clever move, with continuing
success in technical circles. But to do the same for the man in the
street? By all means try, but why? Just live with the wrong things being
called Linux and make sure that the right things are being run :-)

Dan Shearer
dan at shearer.org

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