[Linux-aus] What's in a name?

David Lloyd lloy0076 at adam.com.au
Fri Feb 12 19:25:04 AEDT 2016

Hi Craige,

> "...the Free Software movement was overshadowed by this business
> interest in it, called OpenSource and we're in an ironic moment where
> more & more Free Software is being written every day...but I'm more
> likely to encounter a situation where I'm trying to get a job done or do
> something in the world where proprietary software is necessary."
> I'm interested in the community's opinion on this distinction. Is Mr
> Shakespeare correct or does the distinction between the names matter?

That, of course, will depend on which group one asks and what their biases 
and preferences happen to be.

I tend to think that "Open Source" is the more neutral term and that the 
term "Free Software" actually represents software that is, in the 
strictest sense, entirely free as per the various incarnations of the GPL 
[1]. I also see its proponents as being somewhat more fanatical about 
imposing their point of view regarding software freedom (small "L") than 
those of "Open Source".

But, I am biased. I don't necessarily agree that imposing "Free Software" 
using licenses is necessary for a thriving software ecosystem; just take a 
look at the Apache Foundation and the myriad of projects there. I tend to 
take the point of view that an Apache 2, BSD (of various revisions), MIT 
and other similar licenses are more useful for introducing open source 
software (small letters) into a corporate environment because one can 
straight up say: "Nope, the license does not allow those to whom the 
binaries are distributed to request the rest of the proprietary code 

However, "Free Software" advocates [2] may choose to disagree here.

In short, I think there's a few confusions:

1. "Free Software" and "Open Source" can mean the same thing if only 
talking about whether the software might be free as in beer, or somehow 
the software's source is available.
2. "Free Software" though may encompass a point of view that imposes "Free 
Software" upon those whom one distributes one's software to - it's a 
philosophy which says, "not Free Software is bad" (but clearly with the 
LGPL, though, there is some pragmatism going on).
3. "Open Source" is a philosophy too; I think it is related to (2) but I 
tend to see it as a more moderate, less confrontational term - as the 
article in Wikipedia itself points out, it emerged because people wanted 
to avoid the politics software freedom and just wanted software that was 
free in source form.

Linux Australia has never been beholden to the "Free Software" crowd for 
as long as I've known it. It's actually become the umbrella organisation 
for "Open Source" activities in Australia especially after the collapse of 
the AUUG (3).

But, back to the point, yes, a rose by any other name is the same. But 
"Free Software" and "Open Source" whilst talking about similar matters, 
concepts and philosophies, are two different species. To use the analogy, 
I don't even think our beloved Shakespeare would try to convince anyone 
that a plant that was clearly a cactus is a rose just because he called it 
so. I think he means, "were I, Shakespeare to point at that rose and call 
it an alligator, it would still be a rose and still smell sweet." But you 
couldn't point at an "alligator" and expect it to be a "rose".


[1] The source code must be available, modifiable and the license must be 
such that if you do redistribute it, you must redistribute it under the 
same terms; the license may not necessarily be the GPL of any version but 
I'm using this as an example as it's the most obvious license of this 
(2) Symbiotic, maybe? Sometimes I've seen these two camps pitch all out 
flamewars at each other;
(3) PS. The last chapter of AUUG is still going in a way - we've been 
meeting in fairly much the same place for about 15 years now although we 
don't call ourselves AUUG any longer.

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