The Uneasy Alliance: Free Software vs Open Source

Analyze both free software and open source approach in your blog. If you prefer one, provide your arguments.

For knowing more exact difference between free software and open source I went to the GNU operating system webpage and to the Linux Information Project page. Here goes what might be interesting:

Nearly all open source software is free software. The two terms describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that nonfree software is an inferior solution to the practical problem at hand. For the free software movement, however, nonfree software is a social problem, and the solution is to stop using it and move to free software. (From the article Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software)

In the Linux Information Project we find  Open Source Definition where we may read:

The term open source was coined in 1997 or early 1998 as a substitute for the term free software because the latter was thought to imply something that was of inferior quality, and therefore not suitable for corporate use, due to its being available at no monetary cost. It was also seen as a way of avoiding confusion with freeware and shareware.

It is mentioned there that mixing the two terms was not causing so many problems as they mean almost the same.

However, recent events have emphasized that there is actually a very practical difference between the two concepts. It is that, whereas free software is always also open source, open source software does not necessarily have to be free software. That is, software can be open source without granting its users the additional freedoms that free software guarantees.

And there is a practical example given:

One of the most noteworthy such events was the November 2, 2006 agreement between Microsoft Corporation and Novell, Inc. and the statements by Microsoft that soon followed it. These statements included the comments by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that his company might sue users of Linux, other than those of Novell’s SUSE Linux, for what he claims are violations of Microsoft’s patents.

Fromall these quotations becomes clear that free software is much more than open source. It is not only about the open source code but about the idea of being free and sharing the freedom with others. It sounds good but there are some voices of critique. Matthew Paul Thomas in his article  Why Free Software has poor usability, and how to improve it gives 15 problems that free software has and some suggestions how to solve them. For ex.:

  • Lack of incentives to usability – for developers of free software utility program does not translate into money. Therefore, they do not care about usability. The solution could be competitions for the best free interface, for which the developer would receive a prize.
  • Ignoring the minor shortcomings – details can render that the user will see the program is poor. In the case of free software details are repaired after years. According to the MPT small problems with the interface should be removed immediately, and developers should not say “it’s just a small problem with the UI.”

And there is one more, a bit ironic, ideological problem. Journalists t3n magazine asked Sergey Belousov, CEO of Parallels, about the role of  free software (especially Linux) for Google and Amazon, as well as its own company. Belousov said: “Open Source is a big piece of shit!” (Open Source ist ein Scheiss riesiger Haufen!). He said that he hates open source, perhaps because he “was born and grew up under communism and can no longer listen to talk about communities.”

The same opinion has Microsoft…


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